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View Point

By Roy M. Takumi

Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Coping with
prescription drug crisis

REACHING epidemic proportions is a health crisis: the soaring price of prescription drugs. Drug prices are out of control, rising twice as fast as the inflation rate.

Approximately 70 million Americans have little or no prescription drug coverage and, as the elderly population increases -- projected to reach 70 million by 2030 -- that number will continue to grow.

The uninsured are grossly overcharged. The prices uninsured Americans pay for prescriptions are about twice what the federal government pays for the same drugs under the Federal Supply Schedule.

In many cases, uninsured families are charged two to three times more than their insured neighbors, even in the same pharmacy.

Although most Hawaii residents have insurance, lowering drug costs will benefit them too, since the cost of premiums is based upon the entire cost of delivering health care.

The difference can be startling.

For example, your doctor may prescribe Zocor to treat high cholesterol. If you live in Canada, you pay $43.97 for 60 tablets. Go to Longs Drugs Store and it costs you $120.95, a 275 percent difference.

Or you may be taking Prilosec for stomach acid problems. Live in Mexico and 30 capsules cost $29.46; go to Straub Clinic and pay $137.55, a 467 percent difference.

Every day, Americans risk their health when they have to decide between purchasing food or medicine for themselves or their children. Seniors are especially vulnerable, consuming one-third of all prescriptions, and many live on low, fixed incomes.

Those who cannot afford exorbitant drug prices cope by sharing drugs, skipping doses or simply doing without medicine altogether.

While the federal government has been deadlocked in partisan bickering over HMO and Medicare reforms, several states have taken the lead to ensure that uninsured families and seniors are not left to bear the brunt of inflated prescription drug prices.

Maine's law is an excellent model for making prescription drugs affordable. Passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, it directs state government to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate steep discounts and pass the savings on to those who have no prescription drug insurance.

The program pays for itself; it doesn't cost taxpayers a single penny.

There is a growing movement across states to follow Maine's lead. We in Hawaii must join this effort to pass this common-sense legislation and address the prescription drugs crisis in our state.

As the prescription drug debate has heated up, so has the rhetoric of the pharmaceutical industry. But there are several reasons why making drug prices affordable won't hurt research and development of new drugs:

Bullet The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry in the world. Drug companies report a profit of 18.5 percent based upon equity, sales and revenues, triple the average of other industries.

Bullet Drug companies claim that high prices are necessary for research and development, yet the largest manufacturers spend almost twice as much on marketing and advertising as they do on research and development.

Bullet If prescription drug prices were reduced, a Merrill Lynch study finds that there would be an increase in the volume of sales that would offset any loss from reducing prices.

Medicine is not a luxury. Like food and shelter, it is a necessity to ensure a healthy community.

Companies should not charge whatever they can get. The lives and well being of millions of Americans are at stake.

State Rep. Roy M. Takumi is a Democrat
representing the 36th District (Waipahu, Pearl City).

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