State Issues

Without Prop. 61, our patients will continue to suffer

Supporters at a “Yes on Prop 61” rally in San Francisco last week included elected officials, veterans, nurses and volunteers.
Supporters at a “Yes on Prop 61” rally in San Francisco last week included elected officials, veterans, nurses and volunteers. AP Images

If you wonder why prescription drug prices are so high, take a look at how the big drug companies have rigged the system against all of us. We can take back control of our health by voting Yes on Proposition 61.

Since 2007, prices for brand name drugs have shot up 164 percent. Some medications have gone up more.

We’ve all heard of the $600 EpiPens that can mean life or death for those who suffer severe allergic reactions to bee stings or peanuts. But EpiPens are hardly alone.

Sovaldi, a breakthrough medicine for hepatitis C sufferers, sells for $1,000 a pill. In the past two years, the price of Vimovo, an arthritis pain reliever, jumped up 1,270 percent; Dutoprol, a high blood pressure medication, rose 1,014 percent in price.

Then there’s Calcium EDTA, a long in-use drug used for life-threatening cases of lead poisoning. Valeant Pharmaceuticals raised the price more than 2,700 percent in one year. Meanwhile, Valeant set a corporate executives compensation plan based on keeping stock prices high, an incentive for raising drug charges.

EpiPen manufacturer Mylan rewarded its top five managers with hundreds of millions as its stock price shot up; CEO Heather Bresch saw her pay package jump 671 percent to $18.9 million from 2007 to 2015 during which time EpiPen prices were raised by 461 percent.

The profits the drug giants make also go into influence peddling. Pharmaceutical firms spend more on lobbying than any other corporate sector. They’ve succeeded in intimidating Congress to block proposals to allow Medicare to negotiate bulk discounts on drugs – as virtually every other industrial country does. In California, they have buried two modest bills this year alone that would have simply required more transparency and notice, not even cuts in drug prices.

Nurses have seen enough.

We see parents facing homelessness to pay to continue drug treatment for children with leukemia. We see diabetic patients who risk blindness, loss of limbs, kidney failure or death because they can’t afford insulin. We see patients with heart stents coming back into the hospital for another operation because they couldn’t afford the cost of follow-up medication.

Not only is this harming patients, it threatens to bankrupt public budgets.

Sovaldi, the hepatitis C drug, and its similarly priced medication Harvoni, also made by Gilead Sciences, costs so much it has been estimated that state governments would have to spend $55 billion for all the patients they cover who need it. Now the drug is rationed for those most desperately ill.

The massive profits, which we all subsidize through the inflated prices, also fund the $100 million campaign we see underway to deceive California voters into opposing Proposition 61.

What Proposition 61 does is direct the state to pay no more for prescription drugs for patients it covers than the discount prices – which can be up to 40 percent less – paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs. That would produce huge savings for patients and the state budget alike, and set a model for other payers and other states that can begin to hold the out-of-control drug companies accountable.

Nurses are campaigning for Proposition 61 across the state because we cannot be silent in the face of harm to our patients who can’t pay these outrageous prices.

It’s time send a message to Big Pharma. Enough is enough. Vote Yes on 61.

Kellie Montoya is a Modesto registered nurse; she wrote this for The Modesto Bee.