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OR Lawmakers Tackle Rising Prescription Drug Prices

The rapidly increasing price of prescription drugs leaves some people to make difficult decisions about where to spend their money. (Darwin Brandis/Adobe Stock)
The rapidly increasing price of prescription drugs leaves some people to make difficult decisions about where to spend their money. (Darwin Brandis/Adobe Stock)
May 15, 2019

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon lawmakers are looking at ways to address the spiking costs of prescription drugs.

Two bills in the Legislature could bring down prices, which would be a relief to older Oregonians. According to a U.S. Senate report from last year, the prices for some commonly prescribed, name-brand drugs are increasing at 10 times the rate of inflation.

Geneva Craig, a registered nurse at Asante Health Systems in Medford and an AARP Oregon executive council member, said she wants the state to act soon because of the effects she's seen from unaffordable drugs.

"Some patients that I've seen in the hospital are in the hospital because they had to make a choice about being able to afford the drugs - their medication - or the rent, or food," she said. "Those types of choices had to be made."

The bills now being considered would require companies to give 60 days' advance notice before raising the price of a drug, and to allow prescription drugs to be imported from Canada.

Mark Griffith, a health-care advocate with the consumer group OSPIRG, said House Bill 2658, requiring advance notice of price increases, could help put the market back into balance.

"The drug companies are holding more of the power than they should be," he said, "and, to some extent, this is something that's going to help level the playing fields by giving insurance companies, as well as consumers who are able to act on choice, to be in a better position to respond to planned price changes."

Griffith said the advance notice would give insurance companies time to switch to a more affordable drug, putting pressure on drug companies to keep their prices down. Pharmaceutical representatives say the bill could threaten manufacturer supply chains.

HB 2658 passed the House in April and now is in the Senate.

Griffith said the other bill, HB 2689, has counterparts in states as politically diverse as Vermont and Florida - and both have approved Canadian import programs. Opponents have pointed to safety concerns, but Griffith said Canadian standards are on par with those of the United States. He said the real benefit comes from the savings.

"Prescription drugs that are sold in Canada - and these are basically the same, exact product - are much, much less expensive," he said. "They could be as much as 80% lower, but something like 30% to 50% lower in price is pretty typical."

Texts of HB 2658 and HB 2689 are online.

Disclosure: AARP Oregon contributes to our fund for reporting on Consumer Issues, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR