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Opinion | Michigan Legislature must work to lower prescription drug costs

With new Democratic majorities in both chambers for the first time in decades, the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have taken unprecedented action on issues affecting working families, kids and retirees. 

Their work passing gun violence prevention measures, repealing pension taxes for older Michiganders and empowering employees at their workplaces should be commended.

 Dr. Farhan Bhatti
Dr. Farhan Bhatti is a family physician in Lansing and Michigan State Lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care.

But Michigan residents also need lawmakers to take a stand against the unaffordable price hikes of prescription drugs. As a doctor, I believe it’s time for Michigan’s elected leaders to enact meaningful, long-term reforms to help bring down the escalating costs of expensive prescription drugs.

I see firsthand how costly prescription drugs are harming my patients’ health. To stretch the supply of expensive medications, some people skip a dose every other day or they split pills. Sometimes, they delay filling a prescription or skip taking their medication altogether. 

These anecdotes are all too common these days. Squeezed by rising prices everywhere, many Michiganders must make the difficult choice of paying for their medications or another basic need. High drug costs force more than one-in-four Michiganders to ration or skip medications.

Drug prices are set behind a smoke screen, hidden from view from just about everyone, including physicians like me. For my patients, few things are more distressing than going to their pharmacy only to be told that a medication I prescribed suddenly costs far more than last time or is no longer covered. 

And higher prices don’t mean it’s better: Xeljanz, which is 6 percent more expensive this year than last year, is not 6 percent more effective at treating autoimmune diseases. 

Ibrance did not get 7.9 percent better at treating cancer compared with last year just because it’s 7.9 percent more expensive now. 

One way to help rein in the high cost of prescription drugs is to bring more transparency, accountability and fairness to how drug prices are set. Other states are already introducing this principle, with nonpartisan independent experts reviewing drug costs and setting limits on what drugmakers charge.

Reining in the skyrocketing costs of medications must be a priority for our elected leaders. In our exam rooms and clinics, physicians are frustrated that the medications we prescribe for our patients are beyond their financial reach. Some cancer drugs cost upwards of $10,000 for a month’s supply. Otherwise, manageable chronic conditions can spiral out of control because medications are too costly. 

I’ve met folks who couldn’t pay for basic medical needs such as bronchodilators that can provide relief for asthma. Some can’t afford the disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) that allow them to work and care for their families.

Without action from lawmakers, the problem is only getting worse. Between July 2021 and July 2022, drug prices increased 31.6 percent, nearly four times the rate of inflation. This year, drug companies raised prices on nearly 1,000 medications and half of all new drugs cost $150,000 or more each year. 

My patients need relief from these runaway, often inexplicable price hikes. No family in Michigan should have to go broke or bankrupt to stay alive. The Michigan Legislature has taken bold action on so many critical issues already — now it’s time for us to demand they take action on affordable prescription drugs for all Michiganders.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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