Md. health group wants legislation to attack high cost of prescription drugs

Md. health group wants legislation to attack high cost of prescription drugs

By Kevin Kratka, Kratka Photography with Flickr Creative Commons License


By Kimberly Escobar

Capital News Service

prescription drugs

By Kevin Kratka, Kratka Photography with Flickr Creative Commons License

With EpiPens and other prescription drugs rising in cost, families who desperately need them but do not have health insurance coverage are bearing a huge financial burden, according to community advocates.

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, a coalition of more than 1,200 religious, labor, business and policy groups seeking affordable health care, wants the state legislature to address that financial burden by overhauling some of the laws governing drug pricing.

“The problem is when prices are raised so high, it’s really hard on families with children who need access to life-saving medications to budget to get these medications that they really need,” said Anna Davis, the health policy director for Advocates for Children and Youth.

The health initiative recently released the results of a poll of 802 Maryland registered voters that showed an overwhelming 80 percent supporting three key actions to combat high drug costs – and all three are to be incorporated in proposed legislation.

The healthcare advocates want to require companies to disclose the price basis (how much they spend on production, research, advertising, and profit) of their drugs, require companies to notify the public of an increase in price of a drug, and authorize the state’s attorney general to take legal action to prevent unfair price hikes.

In the next couple of months, the group will announce a bill and sponsors for these proposals, said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative. The Maryland General Assembly’s session begins in January.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll told the Washington Post that her organization would like to work with advocates to provide accessible information on the out-of-pocket cost for drugs. (

Regarding legislative efforts to make public how drug companies set prices, Carroll said: “Legislation like this doesn’t help patients to actually afford the medications they need.”

$310 billion spent on drugs

A health study by Intercontinental Marketing Services conducted this year found that consumers spent a total of $310 billion on medications in 2015, which is 8.5% higher than 2014. (

“People are in danger and their lives are in danger because they can’t afford the prescription drugs they need,” DeMarco said. “We need these life-saving prescription drugs to be affordable and available to people.”

On the federal level, members of Congress have pressed drug manufacturers to explain dramatic price hikes in pharmaceuticals but so far have not found bipartisan consensus on possible legislative action.

Hearing on EpiPen

At a Sept. 21 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Heather Bresch, CEO of EpiPen maker Mylan, Inc., defended her company’s decision to raise prices by 400% since 2007. She said her company is making only about $50 per EpiPen. Her company now is offering a generic version at $300 and is improving public access to the device.

“I wish we had better anticipated the magnitude and acceleration of the rising financial issues for a growing minority of patients who may have ended up paying the full wholesale acquisition cost or more,” she said. “We never intended this.”

That did not comfort lawmakers.

“I find this to be so extreme…it is driving exorbitant profits,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Calif., panel chairman.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, ripped into Mylan for boosting the EpiPen’s price “for no discernible reason.” The committee, he said, obtained documents showing that net sales revenue from EpiPens in 2008 was $184 million; this year that figure will be $1.1 billion.

“They raised the prices, I believe, to get filthy rich at the expense of our constituents,” the congressman said.

Hard choices

Having been personally affected by the prescription drug price hikes, Baltimore resident Barbara Gruber, 58, said she would feel more comfortable and healthier if she could buy prescription drugs for her asthma when she needed them.

“It’s a choice between eating, living, and getting the drugs that will keep me alive,” said Gruber, an adjunct professor at various universities in Baltimore city.

Without her prescription drugs, she would not be able to enjoy her hobby, which is painting, Gruber said.

“I can live without an extra paintbrush, I can live without that tube of Indian yellow that I love so much, but I can’t live without certain drugs that I take,” she said. “If the drugs go out of my price range, I can die.”

The Maryland Pharmacists Association would not comment on the three initiatives until advocates introduce them, Executive Director Aliyah Horton said.

“The Maryland Pharmacist Association supports efforts to limit unjustified or unreasonable pricing by pharmaceutical companies that may affect the affordability of medications for patients,” she said.

About The Author

Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. For 26 years, we have provided deeply reported, award-winning coverage of issues of import to Marylanders. With bureaus in College Park, Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, we deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations, a destination Web site, a nightly on-air television newscast and affiliated social media channels (including Twitter and Facebook). We provide breaking news coverage, in-depth investigative and enterprise journalism, and serve as a laboratory for students to test and develop innovative new methods of reporting and telling stories. By providing a true newsroom experience to our students, we send them into the job market with real-world skills and the ability to shape the future of journalism. Only Merrill’s most motivated students are accepted into the Capital News Service program, and they go on to land internships and jobs at the nation’s finest news organizations: The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, Politico, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, ProPublica, National Geographic, NBC News, The Dallas Morning News, the Washington City Paper, Washingtonian magazine, Money magazine, the Wall Street Journal and more.

1 Comment

  1. Dale McNamee

    Epinephrine can be purchased in vial form along with syringes for far, far, lower costs…

    You pay for the convenience of a pen…

    And there is a generic form available…

    BTW, I am a diabetic and I use a syringe to take my insulin… I’ve used an insulin pen and yes, dialing up the dose is easier, but not worth the cost…

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