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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Taking on High Prescription Drug Costs in Illinois: Q&A with Rep. Will Guzzardi

Illinois HB 4900 prevents pharmaceutical companies from price gouging on generic drugs

Climbing prescription drug prices threaten the health and wellbeing of families and individuals who depend on lifesaving medications. While new drugs often come on to the market at incredibly high prices, pharmaceutical companies also hike prices even for older generic and off patent drugs at rates so high that they become out of reach for consumers and strain budgets for employers and governments.

One Illinois legislator is taking action so that residents in his state will no longer have to suffer without recourse when generic drug manufacturers engage in the practice of price gouging. Families USA has been proud to work with State Representative Will Guzzardi from Illinois’ 39th District on HB 4900, legislation that Rep. Guzzardi introduced in the state legislature to create generic drug pricing fairness and stop price gouging in Illinois.

Here Families USA interviews Rep. Guzzardi on how high prescription drug prices hurt Illinois families, and how HB 4900 will help make drugs more affordable in the state.

Families USA: How are prescription drug prices affecting families in Illinois?

Rep. Guzzardi: The high cost of vital medications affects so many of my constituents and people across the state. Too many families are forced to decide between buying groceries, paying the bills, or filling a needed prescription. As I work on this bill, I hear story after story of people forced into these kinds of decisions. People who show up to the pharmacy to pick up their meds, only to find that the cost has tripled — they just leave the prescription behind. People with severe allergies who don't carry EpiPens because they cost too much. People suffering from mental illness whose conditions have destabilized because they can't buy their medications. There's no reason we should live like this. Health care should be a guaranteed right for everyone. As we work toward that goal, we need to do everything we can to make sure people can afford their care now.

Families USA: How will HB 4900 help make prescription drugs more affordable for IL residents?

Rep. Guzzardi: HB 4900 will empower our Attorney General to go after some of the worst actors in the pharmaceutical industry: generic and off-patent drug manufacturers who engage in price gouging. Basically, some companies find existing medications where there are only one or two manufacturers, buy the rights to make the drugs, and then raise the prices exorbitantly. They're profiteering off the needs of sick people. If we can go after these titans of corporate greed (think Martin Shkreli, the now-incarcerated "pharma bro"), we'll be able to limit price spikes for patients across the state.

Families USA: What are the drugs that have caused the biggest cost problems for Illinois residents that the bill will most impact?

Rep. Guzzardi: There are lots of well-documented examples — I already mentioned the cost of the EpiPen, which went up 600% in the beginning of this decade. We're also dealing with a serious opioid epidemic in Illinois. Drug manufacturers are taking advantage of this by jacking up the prices of naloxone, the drug that interrupts opioid overdoses. But the problem affects people with all kinds of medical conditions. A recent GAO study looked at 1,400 generic drugs over a five-year period and found that over 300 of them had seen "extraordinary price increases" of 100% or more.

Families USA: In what ways could federal policymaking help states tackle high prescription drug costs?

Rep. Guzzardi: Federal policy could help us in lots of ways. Medicare could finally start negotiating with the drug companies on price. The VA already does this and pays considerably lower prices for prescriptions. The feds could also revise patent laws to crack down on brand-name pharmaceuticals. These companies make tiny tweaks to their medications to extend the life of their patents, keeping a lock on their monopoly for way longer than they should. And ultimately, I believe the federal government needs to create a universal health care system in this country to take the profit motive out of medicine and provide health coverage for everyone.

Families USA supports state efforts to make prescription drugs more affordable

Families USA supports Illinois HB 4900 and urges its swift passage. We hope other states will pass similar legislation, building off of the landmark bill that Maryland enacted on prescription drug price gouging in 2017, and the legislation to protect consumers from unduly expensive brand-name prescription drugs that the Maryland legislature is currently considering. We also support efforts in states throughout the country to increase prescription drug price transparency, including Oregon’s 2018 HB 4005, and California’s 2017 SB 17, as well as other efforts to make prescription drug prices more affordable.

If you are working to make prescription drugs more affordable and would like to partner with Families USA, please reach out to us at info@familiesusa.org.