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Nevada state senator pushes for more drug price transparency

Updated April 3, 2019 - 8:30 pm

CARSON CITY — Two years after a push for more transparency in the costs of insulin for diabetes treatment, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela is hoping to shed even more light on prescription drug prices and the health care system in Nevada.

Senate Bill 262, sponsored by Cancela, D-Las Vegas, would require drug companies to disclose annually information about how they price asthma medications, including manufacturing costs and investments in research. The proposal builds upon a law passed in 2017 championed by Cancela that requires similar disclosures for insulin prices that were considered at the time the strictest drug-price disclosure law in the nation.

In Nevada, 10.4 percent of adults and 11.5 percent of children have asthma, which both outpace the national average, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.

And like other conditions, the prescription medications used to combat asthma are rising in cost. From 2013 to 2018, the average cost of an inhaler rose from $280 to $380, Cancela told lawmakers on the Senate Heath and Human Services Committee during a hearing Wednesday.

‘I need it to live’

The bill, Cancela said, “intends to shed light on why asthma costs have increased and allow us to have third-party, unbiased data on what’s happening to asthma drug costs in Nevada.”

“We as a state should have neutral data to make policy decisions on this important issue and that’s what this bill creates,” Cancela said.

Several people who suffer from asthma — including 12-year-old Joey Douglas from Las Vegas — detailed to lawmakers their personal struggles with the condition.

The teen told lawmakers that his asthma has gotten worse as he’s aged and causes him to miss school, sometimes for three days at a time. His mother has to miss work to stay with him and has to pay full price for the medication, both of which bring on serious financial strains.

“Sometimes mom pays her rent late, she goes months without paying for her car, or she has to borrow money from our family,” he said. “My mom is trying really hard and it makes me feel sad. I need this medicine to breathe. I need it to live.”

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, opposed the bill, saying it brings up similar issues of protecting proprietary information that Cancela’s 2017 law did. PhRMA sued the state over the law but dropped the legal challenge last summer.

Other price-fighting bills

Cancela also presented two other bills relating to drug pricing Wednesday in Senate Bills 378 and 276.

SB378, which was also heard in the Senate health committee, would create the Prescription Drug Affordability Board and Prescription Drug Affordability Stakeholder Council, which Cancela said would be tasked with identifying prescription drugs that are increasing in prices and finding out why.

It would also create the Silver State Scripts Program, the goal of which is to give the state more purchasing power to reduce costs of Medicaid and possibly other government benefit plans if they chose to join in, Cancela added.

SB276 would require pharmacy benefit managers, which effectively act as the middlemen in the prescription drug supply chain, to pass on any rebates or discounts they receive from drug manufacturers directly to the consumers.

But at the end of the bill’s hearing, Cancela said the bill was not ready to move forward and that she would be amending it to call for an interim study of the supply chain.

In January, the Trump administration proposed a similar rule aimed at reducing drug prices and increasing transparency to the market. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the proposal “has the potential to be the most significant change in how Americans’ drugs are priced at the pharmacy counter, ever.”

Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Reno, also presented a pair of health care related bills in Senate Bill 369, which would prevent pharmacy benefits managers and manufacturers from increasing a prescription drug’s cost during a patient’s plan year, and Senate Bill 482, which would allow the state to enter into agreements with neighboring states to offer health care plans to rural counties.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal,.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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