Rx Task Force Chair Op-Ed: Bold, Innovative Rx Drug Budget Proposal Will Make a Difference for Wisconsin Families
Across Wisconsin, too many people are forced to cut pills in half, skip doses, ration their insulin, or not fill prescriptions simply because the cost of those medications is too high. A 2019 study found that three in ten people are not taking medications as prescribed because of the financial burden.1 Insulin has increased in price dramatically rising from $40 per vial in 2001 to $289 per vial in 2018 for one commonly used brand.2 Some Wisconsin families are even forced to choose between paying their heating bill or filling their life-saving prescription. These are choices that nobody should have to make.
To combat these rising costs, Governor Tony Evers signed Executive Order #39 in 2019 to create a task force focused on reducing prescription drug prices. As Chair of the Governor's task force, I coordinated the work of a diverse coalition of pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacists, consumer advocates, state agencies, and more who worked to consider and find solutions to this complex issue.
Our task force heard testimony from people across Wisconsin that have struggled to pay for their high-priced medications. A small business owner told us how he has been forced to ration insulin he relies upon to manage his type 1 diabetes. A retired man on a fixed income shared that it was difficult for him to afford the inhaler he needs for COPD. We received dozens of letters from rural pharmacists, health benefit administrators, consumer advocates, and many others who shared their personal stories and offered solutions for addressing excessive prescription cost prices.
Last fall, the task force presented its
final recommendations for reforms and initiatives focused on making a meaningful impact on the lives of Wisconsinites that rely on prescription medications. These proposals would help control costs, increase transparency, protect consumers, and support our most vulnerable. We submitted our report to the Governor as a starting point for an ongoing discussion about how to increase affordability and accessibility of prescription medications for Wisconsin residents.
Building on the work of the task force, Governor Evers included 20 of these initiatives as part of his 2021-23 Executive Budget. Altogether, the proposals included in the Governor's budget represent one of the most bold and comprehensive approaches our state has ever undertaken to control drug costs and increase accessibility to prescription medications.
The Governor's budget would create the Office of Prescription Drug Affordability to oversee and regulate the pharmaceutical supply chain and serve as a watchdog for Wisconsin consumers. It would also create a Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board to set prescription drug spending targets and establish reasonable price limits. The Governor also supports additional consumer protections to defend Wisconsinites from attempts to artificially raise prices or mislead consumers through deceptive marketing and advertising practices.
To protect those with diabetes, the Governor's budget would put in place a $50 copay cap on insulin to ensure that this critical medication is affordable for all Wisconsinites. The Governor has also recommended the creation of an Insulin Safety Net Program to ensure that those who are uninsured and in dire need of insulin would still be able to access the medication they need to survive.
The high cost of prescription drugs is a hurdle that too many Wisconsinites face. I am grateful for the work the task force members put into developing these important proposals and for the personal stories that many of our community members shared. Now it's time to take the next step in addressing this issue. The prescription drug affordability and accessibility initiatives included in Governor Evers' budget are an important step forward for reducing the financial burden of excessive prescription drug costs for thousands of individuals and families across Wisconsin.
Nathan Houdek is the Deputy Commissioner at the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. Deputy Commissioner Houdek also serves as the Chair of the Governor's Task Force on Reducing Prescription Drug Prices.
1 US Public's Perspective on Prescription Drug Costs | Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacology | JAMA | JAMA Network
2 Insulin is a lifesaving drug, but it has become intolerably expensive. And the consequences can be tragic. - The Washington Post