Colorado Physicians Support Establishing a Prescription Drug Affordability Board

As physicians and health care professionals practicing in Colorado, we urge the Colorado General Assembly to pass SB 175 establishing a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. This important health care legislation, approved by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services in March, can help bring costs down by as much as 75 percent for high-cost prescription drugs at a time when Colorado families are struggling to afford health care.

In 2020, prices for 500 prescription drugs went up on average at twice the rate of inflation, and in January 2021, pharmaceutical companies further raised the prices of hundreds of drugs, all of them more than the rate of inflation. Medications that patients need to enjoy a decent quality of life, manage a chronic illness and even to stay alive are becoming increasingly unaffordable. While heart disease is the deadliest killer in the United States, too many people are skipping life-saving heart medications because of cost. Strokes and lower respiratory diseases like emphysema and COPD are among the top 5 deadliest diseases, yet patients with COPD spend $6,200 more each year in medical costs compared with other patients.

Because of the high costs of prescription drugs, in 2019, one in 10 Coloradans didn’t take their medications as prescribed. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the affordability situation has worsened: Nationally, nearly 40% of patients report difficulty affording their medications as we prescribed. Asthma patients who rely on a more affordable rescue inhaler, albuterol on a daily or near-daily basis should also be on a preventive steroid inhaler, the cheapest of which is still $260 a month using drug coupons from GoodRx. The list of crucial medications that are becoming more expensive is long.

As a result, physicians spend more and more time helping our patients find medications that they can afford. Many of us are all too familiar with stories of our patients going to their pharmacy not knowing what a prescription will cost or if it will be covered by insurance. For these patients, their out-of-pocket costs can seem to suddenly and mysteriously go up, causing a prescription drug that they’ve been using for months to no longer be affordable. We have all been on the other end of the phone call when our patients express their shock and sometimes fear, especially if a medication they need can make the difference between life and death.

No patient should be turned away from their pharmacy because they can’t afford the medicines they need. No patient should have to live with the fear that they’re not going to be able to afford prescription medicines. Letting drug companies set prices has sent many patients with chronic illnesses into downward spirals of declining health and wellbeing.

The industry claims that setting upper payment limits would jeopardize access for medications because drug makers could refuse to sell their products in Colorado, but that wouldn’t happen. To be sure, there is ample opportunity in the process for industry to make their case if a payment limit would threaten access. Furthermore, there would still be a robust market in the state for the medications.

Clearly, the status quo of allowing prescription drug costs to continue rising, unchecked, every year is unsustainable for our patients, who are also the constituents you represent. And drug corporations are not likely to rein in the high costs of their medications anytime soon unless we make them.

Please pass SB 175 establishing the Prescription Drug Affordability Board and help protect the health and save the lives of our fellow Coloradans.

Thank you,

Dianne Ansari-Winn, MD, Anesthesiology (Denver, CO)
Julie Ansell, MD, Family Medicine (Boulder, CO)
David Baez, MD, Internal Medicine (Aurora, CO)
Randall Buzan, MD, Psychiatry (Englewood, CO)
Steven Chae, MD, Family Practice (Centennial, CO)
Lauri Costello, MD, Family Medicine (Durango, CO)
Tibor Engel, MD, Obgyn (Denver, CO)
Dana Greene, MD, Family Medicine (Leadville, CO)
Mallory Harling, MD, Ob/Gyn (Glenwood Springs, CO 81601, CO)
Ronald Harmon, MD, Anesthesiology (Aurora, CO)
Herb Jacobs, MD, Holistic/&OB/GYN (Denver, CO)
Joseph Kay, MD, Adult Congenital Cardiology (Denver, CO)
Helen Kilzer, MD, Retired Hospice Palliative Care (Fort Collins, CO)
Elizabeth Kinney, MD, Family Practive (Alamosa, CO)
Jerry Kopelman, MD, ObGyn (Englewood, CO)
Monroe Levine, MD, Orthopedic Surgery (Westminster, CO)
Kristen Nordenholz, MD, MSc, Emergency Medicine (Denver, CO)
Tracy Paeschke, MD, Cardiology (Colorado Springs, CO)
Claudia Panzer, MD, Endocrinology (Denver, CO)
Kurt Peters, MD, Psychiatry (Colorado Springs, CO)
Catherine Ryan, MD, ObGyn (Boulder, CO)
Kelly Sennholz, MD, Emergency (Edgewater, CO)
Stanley Siefer, MD, Retired Emergency Medicine (Denver, CO)
Clifford Watts, MD, Retired Emergency Medicine (Longmont, CO)
Barbara Weis, DNP, FNP-C, Family Medicine (Golden, CO)