Oregon lawmakers considering how to lower prescription costs as prices rise

SALEM, OR (KPTV) – The high cost of prescription drugs has lawmakers in Salem exploring ways to get cheaper drugs from Canada.

Three separate bills, spread across the House and Senate, would create a process by which drugs can be imported from Canada and distributed to customers in Oregon.

In Banks, independent pharmacist Phil Darrah said he has seen drug prices increase by nearly 10 percent each of the past several years, with little or no explanation from drug manufacturers, and little to nothing being done to stop or slow the increases.

“We’ve got too much control by the lobbyists from the drug manufacturers and the insurance companies,” said Darrah. “Too much money influencing the elections.”

Gerry Veley, one of Darrah’s customers who lives in Forest Grove, has been feeling the pinch.

He and his wife are retired, living on fixed incomes, and he pays close to $200 a month for his prescriptions.

“We have savings and we own our own home, so we’re not destitute by any stretch, but we do live on a tight budget, and any increase we feel quickly,” said Veley.

In the face of the steady increases, there has been little political will to make changes, while money has flowed from the pharmaceutical industry to lawmakers.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Pharmaceutical and Health Products industry has spent more than $200 million on lobbying efforts each year since 2007, and more than $280 million in 2018 alone.

Three of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, Bayer, and Merck, spent more than $26.7 million combined on campaign contributions.

“I think there are good people out there who would like to help, and better the situation but they don’t know how, or the politics are so divisive now that they feel if they supported a bill that would help, they might not get re-elected,” said Veley.

Last November, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley introduced Senate Bill 360, the Low Drug Prices Act, which would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a reference price — the median price of every drug in 11 of the world’s largest developed countries. Prescription drugs would then have to be sold at that reference price to all customers in the U.S., regardless of what kind of insurance they have or whether they’re paying themselves.

The bill is currently in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.