×

Shaheen pushes for ways to lower health care costs

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen greets Merle Schotanus, of Lebanon, N.H., a former state representative, before sitting down for a roundtable discussion on prescription drug affordability on Friday, March 8, 2019, at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital. Also at the table are Karry LaHaye, left, a primary care social worker at the hospital; Curtis Gibson, director of retail pharmacy at Dartmouth-Hitchcock; and Sue Mooney, president and CEO at APD.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck ) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 08, 2019

LEBANON — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen criticized the pharmaceutical industry for putting profits above people and called for increased competition to lower drug prices on Friday during a roundtable discussion at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital.

“This is clearly a huge issue, and it’s something that we’ve got to address,” she told a room of hospital executives and health care professional’s gathered at APD’s Multi-Specialty Clinic.

The Democratic senator from New Hampshire was in Lebanon to tout two bills she’s introduced to help lower drug costs.

One would eliminate government subsidies for prescription drug advertisement, while another aims to increase access to low-cost medications by curtailing abuse of the patent system.

Shaheen said many drug ads encourage people to request particular medications from their doctors, driving up demand and the price of those brand names.

“In addition to that, we’re not only paying for direct-to-consumer ads in our costs for prescription drugs, but then drug companies are able to deduct the cost from their taxes,” she said. “So we’re paying twice.”

APD CEO Sue Mooney also lamented rising drug prices, saying the trend frequently forces doctors to balance the medical needs of their patients with their ability to pay for treatment.

She recounted an incident on Thursday where a man seeking treatment was quoted $4,000 for a one-week supply of antibiotics. With the help of social workers and doctors, the man, who was uninsured, was able to use discount coupons to bring the price down to about $700, Mooney said.

“This is every week,” she said of the incident, adding the hospital takes on additional costs helping patients find access to affordable medication.

Curtis Gibbon, the director of retail pharmacy services for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, also painted the picture of an often turbulent drug market where drugs change status and prices at the expense of patients.

Over the past 12 years, he’s seen people struggle to pay for medication that was once abundant and affordable. Meanwhile, the market has produced shortages of other drugs “so prevalent that the FDA has had to extend the expiration dates on products past what the label dates were on boxes,” Gibbon said.

A major problem with the drug market is that prices often are arbitrary, said Dr. Steven Woloshin, a professor and co-director of the Center for Medicine and Media at The Dartmouth Institute.

“A lot of the drugs (on the market) don’t do all that much,” he said, adding prices aren’t determined by how effective a medication is or how many lives it can save.

“We need a day of objectively looking at the drug to discern what the value is,” he said.

The roundtable in Lebanon comes a week after the Senate Finance Committee took pharmaceutical executives to task during a hearing over rising drug prices.

Among them was Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who complained that drug pricing is too complex for many Granite Staters attempting to navigate the health care system.

“Right now, it is so convoluted and so not transparent that my constituents can’t figure out what the price of their medications should be day-to-day,” she said, according to The Washington Post. “I feel like I need a Ph.D. in prescription drug pricing to figure out how the industry works.”

Drug officials argue the high cost of medications partially can be blamed on the expensive process of developing new drugs, which Americans pay to keep the industry here.

Executives last week also said prices are rising so they can pay large rebates to insurance companies, and argued that getting rid of all rebates could stabilize prices.

But Shaheen said it’s increased competition, not the status quo that will benefit consumers best. In addition to her bills, she called for legislation to allow Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate drug prices and for the re-importation of drugs from Canada.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.