Democratic politicians and progressive advocates held a public discussion Tuesday to update one another on efforts underway at the state and federal levels to curb the rising costs of prescription drug costs, which state Sen. Yvanna Cancela said constituted “a public health crisis” when coupled with Nevada’s rising rates of diabetes, asthma and other diseases.
Cancela was joined by Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford and a member of Rep. Dina Titus’ office and representatives from Planned Parenthood, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Culinary Local 226. The event was hosted by progressive advocacy group Battle Born Progress.
Lee said concerns over rising drug costs are the most common complaints made to her office, with mothers having to choose between buying insulin or groceries for their children and seniors conserving costly medications by taking smaller doses.
Although several bills have passed through the House only to sit “in the graveyard” that is the Republican-controlled Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Lee said, she is hopeful that bipartisan agreement can be reached to promote transparency in the pharmaceutical industry, to make it easier for generic drugs to be manufactured and to cut down on price gouging for unchanged medicines.
“There’s not many issues in this country where I think we can come together, but I do think that prescription drug pricing — it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, Republican or an independent, or if you live in rural Iowa or Los Angeles — this is an issue that affects every single American and one that we in Congress need to come together to address,” Lee said.
Horsford said he has seen the cost of five of his lifesaving medications increase since he underwent heart surgery six years ago, while his insurance, doctor and the drugs’ ingredients haven’t changed. He agreed with Lee’s statements on transparency, adding Medicare must be allowed to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry.
He is currently working on legislation that would require drug companies to disclose all of their costs if they seek to raise a drug’s price more than 10 percent in a year.
Cancela, who has successfully pushed Nevada legislation to crack down on diabetes and asthma medicine costs, said she is working on a bill that would require drug companies to publicly disclose their rates — similar to the current state requirements for utilities providers.
She said activism and education on the issues were important ways for everyday Nevadans to contribute, but the problem must be addressed in the federal government. Nevada must keep its largely Democratic delegation intact and do its part to elect a Democratic president, she added.
The politicians also heard from several advocates struggling with high drug costs.
Joey Ward said his mother goes months without making her car payment or skips grocery trips to pay for his asthma medication.
Vivian Leal was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She shared a sharp-curved graph she said charted the increases in the cost of her daily medication in those two decades. The medicine, its research and its marketing have not changed in that time, she added, only the profit margins.
Leal noted that patients who can’t afford their medication often end up in emergency rooms, where costs are covered by even the healthiest of taxpayers.
“This is a racket,” Leal said. “It is enabled by the laws that we have, and all types of games are being played to keep patients hostage — to keep our state hostage.”