Column: Protect consumers from drug prices

Darrin Camilleri

Back-to-school season can be an exciting and hectic time of year for many of us. As a former teacher, I know our educators are busy making final preparations to ensure our classrooms are safe and productive learning spaces. Parents are working to check off every last item on the school supply list to set their student up for success. But for many Michigan families, this back-to-school list can have some expensive additions. In particular, many families across the state stare wide-eyed at their checking accounts as they prepare to purchase another critical item for their student: the year’s supply of EpiPens.

The nation watched in horror last year when the price of EpiPens suddenly skyrocketed, and families were faced with the immediate and absurd burden of breaking their budgets for a potentially life-saving precaution. Parents and caregivers were at a loss for how to explain such a dramatic price increase. The truth is upsetting, yet not unexpected in today’s world of greedy executives and corporate special interests: they did it because they could. The pharmaceutical company that produced them knew it could make more money, so it increased the cost.

Unfortunately, this kind of story is all too common, especially for our state’s most vulnerable students, seniors and working families. Almost 60 percent of American adults take prescription drugs, and according to recent studies, drug prices increased 10 percent on average in 2016 — well outpacing inflation and wage growth — while some skyrocketed as much as 5,500 percent.

This is the third straight year of double-digit price increases for Michiganians. Enough is enough.

Last month, my colleagues in the Legislature and I proposed a new plan that would protect the people of Michigan from unfair price gouging. Our plan would create a Prescription Drug Consumer Protection Board, composed primarily of consumer advocates. With similar legislation having already passed successfully in a number of states, our plan aims to hold drug manufacturers accountable when it comes to pricing prescriptions, particularly life-saving ones.

Once established, drug companies would be required to submit documentation to the board regarding any price increases, and any increase above 10 percent in one year — or 30 percent over five years — would be subject to review by the board. If drug manufacturers fail to submit the required information in a timely manner, they would be subject to penalties and fines. Our plan would also strengthen the Consumer Protection Act by allowing the board to request an investigation by the state attorney general into suspected drug pricing and requiring that any financial penalties be returned to consumers, where they belong.

Uncertainty in Washington politics has left many Michigan residents nervous about the future of health care costs, from insurance premiums to prescription drug prices. Back at home, my colleagues and I are committed to making health care more affordable across the board for Michigan families. Our Health Care Bill of Rights that we introduced earlier this year, and now the Prescription Drug Consumer Protection Board, are proof that our work won’t be finished until these protections are guaranteed for all. We urge Michigan residents to fight alongside us by asking their legislators to help this package become law.

Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township, represents the 23rd House District.