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Drug Price Transparency Bill Coming to Wash. Legislature

Prescription drugs account for nearly a quarter of Washington state's health care spending. (christinacorso/Twenty20)
Prescription drugs account for nearly a quarter of Washington state's health care spending. (christinacorso/Twenty20)
January 15, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Could 2019 be the year Washington state lawmakers tackle the rising cost of prescription drugs? State Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, and Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, are introducing bills this session that would increase transparency for drug pricing.

Prescription drugs account for nearly a quarter of Washington state's healthcare spending, and pharmaceutical companies often have little competition. Dr. David Grossman, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente, said patients sometimes ask if they can split pills in half to make them last longer.

"We are constantly trying to make sure that our members are not spending more than they need to,” Grossman said. “But when you have a limited choice of drugs available and there's monopolies going on, it's kind of tough sometimes to be able to essentially promise a patient that you can provide a truly affordable drug."

Grossman said rising drug costs are making health care unaffordable for some patients. The pricing transparency bill would require drug companies to justify price increases and health plan purchasers to report how drug spending contributes to overall health-care spending and premiums.

Sharon Burke, director of clinical pharmacy services at Kaiser Permanente, said it isn't just specialty drugs going up in price.

"The one thing that's also concerning is medications that have been on the market for a long period of time,” Burke said. “We continue to see price increases from manufacturers, so the drug price transparency bill will help give us some visibility into the why."

Grossman said more transparency equals more accountability.

"You can't solve what you can't track,” Grossman said. “So by putting these numbers out there and putting some sunlight on them, we hope that all sectors of health care and especially patients will have a better understanding of why pharmaceutical companies are increasing the cost of their drugs so fast."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA