Prescription drug costs continue to skyrocket every year, putting many in danger of having to choose between refilling their prescription or not buying necessary life essentials.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced five bills during her tenure that she would help Americans afford their, at times, life-saving medicine. That notion prompted Klobuchar to hold a series of roundtable discussions throughout Minnesota on Feb. 6. Since the State of the Union was the previous day, Klobuchar was in Washington, D.C., but sent a video with her aides to show.
In it Klobuchar talked about the increasing costs of prescription drugs. Klobuchar said that between 2012-2015 prices increased on brand name drugs by 110 percent. And four of the top 10 drugs have gone up 100 percent over the past couple of years.
At roundtable at the Red Wing YMCA, at least 20 people gave feedback and information to Klobuchar's aides. Klobuchar said the feedback from residents across Minnesota is "critical" in trying to find a way to provide people with more affordable prescription drugs.
In attendance were members from Mayo Clinic Health System, Goodhue County, AARP, and South Country Health Alliance.
Goodhue County Board Chair Brad Anderson began the discussion by talking about the price increase on members of South Country Health Alliance, a health plan serving people in 12 counties in Minnesota.
Anderson said they need to find a way to gain more control over pricing. For example, why does a drug like tetracycline cost one of his family members $366 a month at one time, then six months later $465 a month, especially a drug that's been around since the 1950s?
"This is an ancient drug," Anderson said. "How could it ever cost this much?"
Dr. Brian Whited, a family physician for Mayo Clinic System in Lake City, said the discussion shouldn't center on making the drug companies a "villian." Over his 30 years as a family physician, Whited said he's seen drugs change and greatly help people's lives.
"How do we make sure there isn't price gouging? How do we make sure there isn't a lack of competition or others things that can really change the equation so this all fits together? Because I do think drug companies do deserve their level of profit," Whited said. "They are taking the risk to develop drugs that may or may not lead to anything."
He continued, "We need to be very clear about how we approach this. ... It needs to have a very complex and thoughtful approach."
Creation of Civica
Whited and his colleagues shared with the group that Mayo Clinic is a founding member of Civica, a nonprofit drug company formed in January 2018 by hospitals around the country that focuses on producing generic drugs. Production hasn't officially begun, but Whited said this company will create competition in the marketplace, a major point Klobuchar said needed to help control costs.
Susan Flaker, director of pharmacy in southeastern Minnesota for Mayo Clinic, said drug companies find it no longer profitable to produce certain generic medications, so a company can corner the market and control the price. Civica will help address that.
One woman said she had changed her Medicare plan to Part D coverage, which helps cover the cost of prescription medications. She said she has epilepsy, so skipping a dose here and there isn't an option.
Because of her coverage, she has to pick up her specific medicine from a certain pharmacy, which was discouraging to find out after many years of trying to find the perfect medication.
When she went into one store, a member of the pharmacy said that she should talk to her doctor and get a different subscription.
"I talked to my doctor and they said, 'You've got to be kidding me that even suggest that,' the woman said. "After 30 years of working on getting just the right thing, so that I don't have seizures, but now I'm paying $6,000."
The aides took notes on the suggestions and discussion and will report back to Klobuchar.