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Opinion: Ga. patients deserve prescription cost relief

The U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Price-gouging practices by large pharmaceutical companies have created an affordability crisis for Georgia patients — a crisis that demands prompt action by our elected officials in Washington.

At the Epilepsy Foundation of Georgia, we offer services to more than 110,000 Georgians living with epilepsy. The Foundation’s prescription medication assistance program helps epilepsy patients afford their medications following the loss of health insurance or other significant personal crises. Through the Foundation’s program, I have seen firsthand how Big Pharma’s price-gouging makes life much more difficult for Georgians living with this life-altering condition.

Epilepsy patients, among others, are especially vulnerable to the whims and profit motives of Big Pharma when generic versions of medication will not necessarily produce the same results as brand name medications. Generic medications only have to be 80% identical to brand name medications; for many patients, that 20% difference can render generic drugs ineffective. Knowing this, Big Pharma companies have exploited epilepsy patients’ dependence on brand name medications by charging exorbitant prices.

A recent Gallup poll found that 9 in 10 Americans believe the costs of prescription drugs are higher than what consumers should be paying. Yet companies continue to raise prices — unchecked by Congress — causing more and more Americans to struggle to afford their medications. This power imbalance is unsustainable for patients, and it is an outrage that Americans continue to be the victims of Big Pharma. It’s long past time for policymakers to step in and stop Big Pharma’s anti-competitive and egregious pricing practices, especially when lives are on the line.

There’s some good news – bipartisan, market-based solutions are currently under consideration in Congress with the potential to move forward. The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019, introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would implement meaningful steps to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices across the country. Already, this legislation has seen strong bipartisan support in Congress and has the backing of the White House.

If enacted, this legislation will reduce price-gouging by requiring manufacturers to have some skin in the game when covering Medicare Part D expenses. The bill will also keep drug price increases below the rate of inflation, cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors, support competition in the healthcare marketplace and boost transparency. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the solutions outlined in the legislation will save patients and taxpayers more than $130 billion.

To see these protections come to fruition, Georgia patients are counting on our elected leaders. When the House of Representatives votes on similar legislation in the coming weeks, we will need the continued support of our representatives, including Rep. Lucy McBath, who have already committed to standing up to Big Pharma. We will also need the help of Sen. David Perdue, who can make a clear statement that he favors lower drug prices by joining the White House in publicly endorsing the Grassley-Wyden plan, and working with his colleagues to see the bill pass in the Senate.

But time is running out; with just weeks left in the legislative year, hundreds of thousands of Georgians cannot afford further delay. Congress should put partisan squabbles aside and act swiftly to pass these drug pricing reforms into law. I, like millions of patients in Georgia and around the country living with epilepsy, will be watching closely to see if our elected officials in Washington can deliver.

Aly Clift is the executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Georgia.