The Detroit News: Opinion: Drug board will improve health outcomes and equity

When a patient is in need of a prescription medicine that is unaffordable, that person’s health suffers as does the equity in our whole health care system.

The high cost of prescription drugs is a growing crisis for many Michigan residents all the while big pharmaceutical companies continue to reap record profits with little to no accountability.

That is why Michigan lawmakers should create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) — an independent body that sets upper payment limits on prescriptions and holds Big Pharma accountable so Michigan residents can afford their life-saving medications.

The NAACP Michigan State Conference and physicians with the Committee to Protect Health Care are honored to advocate for the PDAB in coalition alongside over 20 organizations representing people with rare diseases, workers, medical professionals, small businesses and Michigan communities. Meanwhile, groups like the National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF), whose corporate sponsors include Big Pharma and Walgreens, are fighting against a PDAB.

Groups like NMQF and other Big-Pharma-aligned organizations are fighting against the PDAB for the same reason we, and 20+ organizations across the state are advocating in support of the PDAB: We know it works.

Hospitals and clinics that provide care to underserved communities will benefit from a PDAB because it uses proven and established strategies that are already working in other states. For starters, those facilities will see their own employee drug coverage costs reduced — helping to address a growing problem recently noted by Corewell’s president and CEO.

Patients benefit most when their doctors can prescribe the best medication for them, instead of having to choose a lower-priced option that doesn’t work as well because the patient cannot afford the best. A PDAB will help ensure that patients and doctors are not put in such difficult situations.

Big Pharma has more than 1,800 lobbyists and is one of the most powerful special interests making campaign contributions to politicians and wielding influence to protect its golden goose and avoid oversight. Meanwhile, too many people can’t afford their prescriptions or have to choose between groceries or paying utility bills so they can get insulin and other life-saving medications they need.

The Michigan Prescription Drug Task Force found nearly a third of residents aged 19 to 64 stopped taking their prescriptions because of cost. Another survey found 27% of Michigan adults reported they’ve cut pills in half, skipped doses of medicine or did not fill a prescription during the prior 12 months due to cost.

Nonpartisan leaders in health care economics, health policy and clinical medicine with no personal or financial stake in the pharmaceutical industry would be appointed to the PDAB, and there would be strict rules in place to prevent politicians, Big Pharma and health care industry or special interest groups from influencing the board’s decisions.

Our most underserved patients are dealing with accessibility and affordability challenges now. A PDAB will be a forceful advocate for Michigan consumers at a time of high inflation to help make life-saving prescriptions more affordable and make pharmaceutical companies more accountable.

A PDAB is the most effective tool for states to improve health outcomes and equity, especially over the long term, which is why we are part of a broad-based nonpartisan coalition of nurses, doctors, public health advocates and patients demanding accountability and urging lawmakers to do more to rein in the high cost of prescription drugs in Michigan through Senate Bills 483-485.

Dr. Aisha Harris is a family physician in Flint at Harris Family Health, a direct primary care clinic. Yvonne White is president of the NAACP Michigan State Conference, which provides leadership for NAACP local branches, youth councils, and college chapters.

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