Valley Voices

Join nurses in voting ‘yes’ on Proposition 61 to lower drug prices

If you want to know why we should pass Proposition 61 to lower prescription drug prices, ask a nurse.

I can tell you the story of a young man in his late 40s living on a fixed income, working two jobs, who was diagnosed with high blood pressure. This one medication was going to cost him over $400 a month.

“I’m young, still in my 40s,” he thought, “I’ll just have to live with it a little longer.”

About three months after this diagnosis, because he could not afford to take his blood pressure medication, he had a massive stroke and is now permanently disabled.

That’s not all. We see diabetic patients who have to ration their insulin because the cost has gone up from $150 for one vial of insulin for a 30-day supply to over $600.

What this means for a diabetic is that if you don’t control your sugar, you are damaging all the organs of your body. You can lose fingers and toes; it can damage your vision.

Taking only a half dose of insulin is just not going to cut it. This is appalling; it is grotesque. We have to put a stop to it.

Nurses see patients every day who have to make painful choices between medication, rent and food. That shouldn’t happen.

But it will not stop unless California acts to rein in the out-of-control pharmaceutical industry, starting with Proposition 61.

It’s up to the voters, because our elected leaders have been unable or unwilling to act to protect California patients and families.

Cases in point are two bills before the Legislature this year: Senate Bill 1010 and Assembly Bill 463.

Both would have just provided more transparency on charges without even cutting prices. Yet even they could not pass, killed by heavy lobbying by the pharmaceutical giants, which are able to use the enormous profits they generate through inflated prices to intimidate lawmakers to block reform.

The drug companies are now spending up to $100 million to hoodwink voters into rejecting this important initiative. They ought to be required to disclose the untruths and consequences of voting “no” the same way they are mandated to disclose the alarming side effects of drugs they advertise on TV.

No, the drug companies, by federal law, can’t just raise prices for veterans if Proposition 61 passes.

In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs is one agency that has the authority to negotiate bulk discount prices, the same way most other countries are able to keep their prices much lower than the U.S.

That’s why Proposition 61 uses the VA as a model. The initiative directs the state to pay no more for patients it covers than the same prices paid by the VA for the same medications. That could cut prices by up to 40 percent and produce billions in savings for California taxpayers.

Your eyes and pocketbooks are not deceiving you. EpiPen, whose price for a two-pack of the lifesaving drug has mushroomed by 460 percent since 2007, is not the exception.

Overall, average prices of brand-name drugs have risen by 164 percent the past seven years; nearly 400 generic drugs have gone up in cost more than 1,000 percent in that time.

While 1 in 10 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control, don’t take their prescribed medications, the top 50 drug companies made $518 billion in profits the past five years. Taxpayers even subsidize much of the research and development, conducted at public universities.

We need to hold the pharmaceutical companies responsible for overcharging all of us. The way to begin is by voting “yes” on Proposition 61.

Amy Arlund of Fresno is a registered nurse.