The story is all too common these days. A widely available and affordable drug used to treat a chronic or life-threatening illness suddenly skyrockets in price, seemingly overnight, leaving folks struggling to pay and worried about what the future might hold. The price of insulin has more than doubled in recent years. In 2015, Rodelis Therapeutics jacked up the cost of a drug used to treat tuberculosis by 2000% after acquiring the rights to produce it.

In one of the most high-profile examples of this dubious practice, Turing Pharmaceuticals increased the price of Daraprim, a life-saving drug used to treat infections, from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill. Turing’s CEO, Martin Shkreli, testified in front of Congress, smirking throughout the hearing and avoiding questions from lawmakers whom he later described as “imbeciles.” Mr. Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud last year, and is now serving a seven-year prison sentence.

The people most impacted by high drug costs are everyday folks like you and me. One in four Americans struggle to pay for their prescription medication, and one in ten go without needed medication due to cost.

Corporate greed is at the heart of this practice. Drug companies are raking in record profits from these price hikes. A 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that pharmaceutical and biotechnology sales revenue increased from $534 billion to $775 billion between 2006 and 2015.

Make no mistake — pharmaceutical companies are getting rich off the backs of poor and working class people, and that’s just not right.

There is no quick, easy solution to this problem. Efforts on the Federal level have dragged on for years, and bills in the Maine Legislature, such as a bill passed last year to increase drug price transparency, have made incremental steps toward a better system. But to truly make progress, we must take on a comprehensive approach to tackle the issue from all sides.

Recent proposals show a path forward on this issue.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, has a bill, LD 1272 “An Act To Increase Access to Low-cost Prescription Drugs” that would to create a state-administered program to wholesale import drugs from Canada, which can be purchased at a significant discount compared with their American counterparts. It’s modeled after successful legislation in Vermont, and could help Mainers save millions on prescription drugs. President Jackson is also introducing legislation that would require drug manufacturers to justify any excessive price increases to a board, and another that would allow individuals to import medication from Canadian pharmacies. Neither bill has been printed yet.

Sen, Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, is introducing a bill, which also has not yet been printed, that places restrictions on pharmacy benefits managers, who often inflate the cost of drugs for consumers. This bill is based on a recommendation of the Legislature’s Health Care Task Force, which examined ways to “ensure that all residents of the State have access to and coverage for affordable, quality health care.”

Finally, building on successful drug price transparency legislation last year, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli has a bill, LD 1162 “An Act To Further Expand Drug Price Transparency”, that would increase the transparency requirements for drug manufacturers who sell their products in Maine.

I support all of these measures. By opening up options for importing cheaper drugs from Canada and increasing transparency in the process of purchasing prescription medications, we can push back against unfair and unreasonable drug price increases, and empower regular folks who just need their medication.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, I’d like to hear from you. I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (207) 287-1515.

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