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Lansing Democrats say plan would stop prescription drug price gouging

A bottle of pills.
A bottle of pills.

Democrats in Lansing want to stop prescription drug price hikes in Michigan.

Prescription drug prices have gone up in Michigan and across the U.S. over the last few years. A recent study by Blue Cross Blue Shield Association showed that the prices its members pay have gone up about 10 percent a year since 2010.

Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, is the House minority leader. He said this is an issue that should also be taken up on a federal level.

“The fact that Washington D.C. is refusing to take action on these issues is disappointing,” he said. “So we’re going to do whatever we can on the state level to move this conversation forward until they actually take action.”

Bill sponsors say the costs of medication in Michigan is causing some people to have to choose between spending money on their medication and other basic needs.

Garrett Clinard lives in Lansing. He has a disease that causes calcium crystals to collect in his joints. Clinard can’t afford his medication because the price has gone up by almost $200 a month over the last 10 years.

“It’s priced me out of the market and I can’t get that treatment and those drugs,” he said. “And that’s just a really bad deal.”

The legislation would require drug manufacturers to justify price increases above 10 percent in one year to a newly created board. If a company doesn’t do that, it would be penalized $100,000 per day.

Representative Hank Vaupel, R-Handy Township, is chair of the House committee on Health Policy. He said he can’t comment directly on the Democrats’ plan because he hasn’t seen it. He said he is in favor of making health care more affordable. But Vaupel said he would rather see pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies work on the problem.

“Because legislation always seems to have its good side and its bad side,” he said. “So I would much prefer to see the industry come up with some solution.”

The plan would also strengthen the Michigan Consumer Protection Act and require the Attorney General to investigate manufacturers the oversight board thinks are excessively raising prices.

Holly Campbell is with Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. In an emailed statement, Campbell said, the organization agrees more needs to be done to make medicine affordable for patients, but:

Creating a new government bureaucracy to implement a requirement to provide advance notice on price increases of medicines could create interruptions in patients’ access to medicines and produce inconsistent price changes from predatory distributors and other purchasers.

Campbell said the proposal also doesn’t require companies to report price decreases. Only looking at price increases does not give consumers an accurate picture of what their medications cost, Campbell said.

The bills will be introduced after Labor Day when the Legislature returns. 

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R