GUILFORD, CT — Connecticut is by no means winning the war on the skyrocketing cost of generic drugs but it is leading the battle — at least that‘s the message state lawmakers brought to a small group of Guilford residents last week.
At the Guilford Community Center, Attorney General William Tong, state Rep. Sean Scanlon, and state Sen. Christine Cohen and others held a roundtable discussion on steps state government is taking to address the rising cost of generic drugs.
Scanlon, who is co-chair of the legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee, is also one of the legislature’s biggest advocates for affordable prescription drugs.
“Everyone knows the cost of prescription drugs is going up, up and up and insurance coverage is going down, down and down,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon said it wasn’t until he dug deeper into another one of his pet issues that hit his hometown of Guilford deeply — the opioid crisis — that he started to understand the control drug companies have on the industry.
Out of that research, Scanlon, in 2018, wrote a bill that would impose stricter reporting requirements on pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers.
“That law now will begin to take effect,” Scanlon said. He called the legislation “groundbreaking.”
Under the law, drug companies will now be required to justify any price increase exceeding 20% that a prescribed drug goes up in any year; additionally, a drug company would have to justify any price increase of more than 50% over a three-year period.
The bill, Scanlon added, also mandates Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) be registered to operate in Connecticut to disclose the total amount of rebates received from manufacturers, including how much of the rebate the PBM retained versus how much was passed down to plan sponsors and consumers.
The bill also requires PBMs to report their administrative fees, including any other payments by the manufacturer to the PBM that are not considered rebates.
Scanlon noted that the bill was passed with bipartisan support in both chambers and also was championed by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo.
During the Guilford forum, Tong discussed his amended, expanded lawsuit against 20 of the nation’s largest generic drug manufacturers for their role in artificially manipulating prices for more than 100 different generic drugs.
Tong has a filed a lawsuit against defendants such as generic drug leader Teva and a subsidiary of Pfizer, Greenstone LLC, among a total of 19 generic drug manufacturers involving 100 different drugs. The lawsuit alleges the competing companies made agreements that pushed up the prices of more than 100 widely used generic drugs, in some cases by 2,000%.
The lawsuit follows a case filed by Tong’s predecessor, George Jepsen, who first sued some of the companies in 2016. In all, that litigation includes 18 corporate defendants, two individual defendants, and 15 generic drugs. Two former executives from Heritage Pharmaceuticals, Jeffery Glazer and Jason Malek, have entered into settlement agreements and are cooperating with the attorneys general working group in that case.
Tong said that for him the issue is personal.
“Every day I take a pill for a skin condition,” Tong told the audience, many of whom nodded when he made his next statement. “It’s a generic drug and the cost of it has gone up 8,000% over the past few years.”
Tong said the original intent of drug companies to make the same generic drugs was “for them to complete, to lower the cost for the consumer.”
Instead, he said his office has uncovered ample evidence in phone calls, emails, texts, and other communications gathered that the companies instead allegedly conspired to raise prices on the same drugs.
Tong said that “90% of all prescription drug pricing in this country is literally stealing billions of dollars from people in Connecticut and all over the country.”
Those skyrocketing prices have forced many to go to without their medicine.
Kristen Whitney Daniels was 15 years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes — a lifelong disease.
Daniels, who is chapter leader of Connecticut #Insulin4All, said people need immediate relief and help, just to simply survive.
“There has been an uptick in people dying with Type 1 diabetes,” Daniels, who was one of the panelists in Guilford, said. “It’s because people can’t afford to take the drug they need.”
She said that “insulin has become the poster child” as an example of a drug that companies are colluding over to unfairly hike prices.
All people with Type 1 diabetes, an estimated 1.25 million Americans, and some people with Type 2 diabetes need multiple injections or infusions of insulin every day. They use glucose monitors to figure out dosages, and sometimes an automatic insulin pump for delivery.
A recent report from the Health Care Cost Institute, a non-profit research organization, found that insulin prices rose significantly between 2012 and 2016 — the average amount a patient spent in a year jumped from $2,864 to $5,705.
Daniels said she and others have often been forced to “cut” their doses below doctor-recommended levels to try to stretch the medication for longer periods without reordering.
Sen. Cohen, who suffers from migraines, said she’s “learned to suffer through many migraines without treatment” during times in her life when the cost of the drug she needs to help her became an issue.
“I treat my migraine medication as gold,” said Cohen.
The problem with patients taking the matter of medication usage into their own hands, however, according to another panelist in Guilford, is it can make a bad situation worse.
“You are going to have other impacts (if you cut your meds),” said Ken Ferrucci, vice president of public policy and governmental affairs at the Connecticut State Medical Society.
Not taking the correct amount of medication can lead to other medical issues with the follow-up cost of treating those problems compounding the issue, said Ferrucci.
All on the panel concurred that there is much more that Connecticut and the country needs to do to keep fighting the good fight against drug price increases.
Besides the state’s lawsuit, Scanlon tried to pass a bill that would have allowed for the importation of inexpensive drugs from Canada, a measure the AARP states would save the average person 35% to 55% at the pharmacy counter.
It made it through the House but never came up for a full vote in the Senate.
Scanlon said he’ll try again this coming year.