Colorado legislators may write the laws that govern the state's health-care system, but they’re not immune from the economic forces that have driven up its costs — a reality that Representative Dominique Jackson, a Democrat from Aurora, got a harsh reminder of last year.
“Toward the end of last session, I logged in to my mail-order pharmacy to reorder some prescriptions,” Jackson said during a press conference at State Capitol on Tuesday, January 21. “And I found out that two drugs that I take each went up from ninety bucks for a three-month supply to more than a thousand dollars per prescription.
“Clearly, I was devastated,” Jackson continued. "I burst into tears. I mean, who wouldn’t cry? How is anybody supposed to absorb that kind of a price increase on something that they have to have?”
Price hikes on prescription drugs — often sudden, drastic and seemingly arbitrary — have become a scourge of the American health-care system and a top policy target for reformers, including in Colorado. At the press conference, Jackson and other Democratic lawmakers unveiled their latest proposal, a bill that would require drugmakers and insurance companies to submit detailed information to state regulators accounting for the prices of their most expensive medications and any sharp cost increases in the future.
“There are a few things we know for certain about the rising price of prescription drugs, and one of them is that we really don’t know nearly enough,” Jackson said. “By revealing how the currently hidden pharmaceutical supply chain operates, this legislative body and future legislative bodies can better determine and address the key factors that are driving up the cost of prescription drugs.”
Under House Bill 1160, dubbed the Colorado Prescription Drug Transparency Act, health insurers would be required to submit drug-pricing information to the state insurance commissioner beginning in 2021. Drug manufacturers would also be required to submit quarterly reports disclosing the drugs for which wholesale costs rose by $40 per prescription or by more than 10 percent, and describe the “specific financial factors” that led to the price hike.
The Democrats’ latest prescription-drug proposal comes after Colorado in 2019 became the first state to impose a cap on the price of insulin, the cost of which has skyrocketed across the country, leading to widespread accusations of price-gouging on the part of large pharmaceutical companies.
“This bill is the next step on the path toward finally saving Coloradans money on their prescription drugs,” said Representative Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon and a lead sponsor of the insulin price-cap legislation.
Andrea Stojsavljevic, policy director for advocacy group Healthier Colorado, said at the press conference that it's far too common for Coloradans to ration their supply of insulin or other life-saving medications in response to rising costs. In a given year, roughly one in ten Coloradans chooses to forgo medication because of cost, and in some areas, like Pueblo County, the rate is as high as one in five.
"If Colorado wants to claim to be one of the healthiest states in the nation, we first have to fully realize health equity on this front," said Stojsavljevic.
Advocates for health-care reform cheered the bill's introduction, but stressed that even with additional information about why insurers and drugmakers are raising prices, there will likely be more work to be done.
"Transparency is only as good as what we do next with it," Stojsavljevic said. "We believe the reports created from this bill in particular, with all the information gleaned from various entities across the pharmaceutical supply chain, will aid policy makers in making informed decisions on how to effectively lower prescription drug prices in the future."