Minnesota lawmakers grapple with rising drug costs

Minnesota lawmakers are trying to get their hands around skyrocketing drug costs and the pharmaceutical industry that sets the prices.

Posted: May 9, 2019 9:43 AM
Updated: May 9, 2019 11:00 AM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers are trying to get their hands around skyrocketing drug costs and the complex pharmaceutical industry that sets the prices.

Several bills are in motion to tackle problems from anti-price gouging efforts to new reporting requirements for drug companies when prices spike. Nearly all those bills have been tucked into House and Senate budget bills and are heading into the final negotiations of the 2019 session, Minnesota Public Radio reported Thursday.

The bipartisan push has been fueled by personal stories from Minnesota residents. Nicole Smith-Holt has been a regular around the Capitol, talking about her son Alec Smith, a diabetic who died at age 26 because he was rationing insulin that he couldn't afford. Legislators keep his photo in their wallets and on their desks. Both the House and Senate health and human services budgets include assistance for emergency insulin supplies but their different approaches need to be reconciled.

"It's an honor, it feels good," she said. "It feels like Alec is motivating these people to do good."

Before heading into negotiations last week, Sen. Michelle Benson recalled hearing about a new wonder drug that could potentially cure spinal muscular atrophy — a crippling and often fatal disease in babies. But it could cost $2 million a dose.

"These are the debates that we end up having as policymakers: Who pays for that?" said Benson, a Ham Lake Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Finance Committee. "The miracles that are created in the pharmaceutical industry, we celebrate, but they also need to treat consumers fairly."

It's not just the miracle drugs. The price of brand-name oral prescription drugs already on the market rose more than 9% a year between 2008 and 2016, according to a recent report in the Journal on Health Affairs, while the annual cost of injectable drugs rose more than 15%. The price of insulin doubled between 2012 and 2016, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.

Bills are also moving to regulate pharmacy benefit managers. They negotiate with drugmakers on behalf of the government and insurers, and the deals they strike determine the availability and prices of prescription drugs for more than 266 million Americans. But they do this out of view of the public and regulators, which leads to confusion about how drug prices are set.

"We have to look at every piece of the supply chain and look at what we can do," said Sen. Scott Jensen, a Chaska Republican who authored the bill and is one of a handful of physicians in the Legislature.

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Hennepin11796776
Ramsey4685217
Stearns226519
Dakota218087
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Olmsted104715
Washington100840
Mower9212
Rice8097
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Blue Earth4032
Todd3982
Carver3401
Lyon2952
Sherburne2954
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Steele2150
Benton2083
Watonwan2030
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Martin1565
Nicollet14412
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Unassigned8335
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Brown302
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Wilkin203
Redwood160
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Cass132
Koochiching131
Marshall120
Pope100
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Clearwater70
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Mahnomen71
Grant60
Roseau60
Hubbard50
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Lac qui Parle40
Stevens40
Red Lake30
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

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Confirmed Cases: 28991

Reported Deaths: 715
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6037177
Woodbury316544
Black Hawk209557
Buena Vista169511
Linn120382
Dallas117529
Johnson11458
Marshall101218
Wapello70030
Story6943
Pottawattamie69211
Crawford6662
Scott63110
Muscatine61544
Dubuque51222
Sioux4550
Tama44529
Wright3700
Louisa36013
Jasper31717
Plymouth3004
Warren2452
Dickinson2412
Washington2259
Hamilton1851
Webster1612
Boone1361
Clarke1252
Allamakee1244
Clay1210
Mahaska11517
Shelby1060
Poweshiek1048
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Clinton951
Bremer876
Des Moines843
Carroll821
Henry823
Taylor780
Cedar751
Emmet750
Franklin750
Pocahontas751
Cherokee720
Monona700
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Sac630
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Jones540
Jefferson530
Osceola510
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Monroe506
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