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Eight bottles of insulin sitting on a table on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. (Alan Levine/Courtesy under Creative Commons)

Casiano Corpus, a 37-year Nevada resident whose wife suffered a stroke in 2016, gave emotional testimony Thursday to state lawmakers on the anxiety and difficult choices the high cost of prescription medication has brought on him and his family. 

“I have so many bills to pay, but I have to make sure she has the medicine she needs so she can stay alive. Sometimes I have to make a choice between which medicine I need to get her first,” Corpus told members at the first meeting of a committee focused on assessing prescription drug pricing. “If the price of this medicine would go down I would be able to put my money towards more food and cooking for my two sons. I would be able to support my family better and have less stress about living and paying day-to-day expenses.”

During the meeting, held in Las Vegas, legislators heard from patients affected by high drug costs as well as policy experts who described what has been done so far nationwide to lower those costs for consumers.

The Committee to Conduct an Interim Study Concerning the Cost of Prescription Drugs was formed to look into the overall cost of prescription drugs in Nevada and how they compare to other states. Additionally, members will look at the impact of rebates, price reductions, and other remuneration from manufacturers on the costs of prescription drugs, and identify opportunities to lower prescription drug costs.

The committee was formed as a result of SB276, which passed during the 2019 legislative session. The bill was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who chairs the committee.

Cancela and her fellow legislators intend to continue bringing in industry experts and leaders as well as hearing from private citizens.

“Every meeting we’ll have an agenda item where a patient, where a Nevadan will come to the table to tell the story of how drug pricing has affected their life,” Cancela said.

At the inaugural meeting, the committee heard from Dr. Beth Slamowitz, the senior adviser on pharmacy for Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services, and health policy analyst Jane Horvath. 

Colleen Becker, a senior policy specialist on health for the National Conference of State Legislatures, spoke as well, giving committee members an overview of prescription drug pricing policies introduced and implemented by other state governments. According to Becker, 950 bills related to prescription drug prices were filed by state legislatures in 2019, and more than 400 have already been filed in 2020. 

Nevada is one of only eight states to have enacted legislation requiring pricing transparency from drug companies. In 2017, lawmakers passed SB539, which addressed essential diabetes medicines, and in 2019, they passed SB262, which expanded the same requirements to essential asthma medicines. The 2019 legislation was also sponsored by Cancela. 

The bills require both manufacturers and middlemen in the drug pricing process to disclose certain costs and profits to the state. According to Cancela, this transparency is intended to help the state understand the causes of high drug costs and make it easier to seek solutions.

In addition to the presenters, Nevada residents spoke in Las Vegas and remotely from Carson City during the public comment portion of the meeting to discuss the impact high drug prices have had on their lives. 

Among the speakers was Joan Lee, 77, who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in January 2018. Initially told she only had 10 months to live, Lee says that the oral chemotherapy medication she was prescribed has kept her alive for the past two years. 

However, this medication is costly. She said that this month her medication copay was $2,647 and in 2019, her out-of-pocket expenses amounted to $13,077 even with her insurance company paying $166,739. 

“I feel like the deck was stacked against me for all my life of trying to be frugal and saving,” she said. “I have only one life, and I don’t want to leave it early.”

The committee is set to meet four times in 2020. After these meetings, the committee will be able to submit up to five bill draft requests for consideration in the 2021 legislative session. The next meeting will be held on Feb. 28. 

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