Guest column: Nurses want solutions to prescription drug costs

The High Point Enterprise - CSRxP

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     September 4, 2016

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The High Point Enterprise
Nurses Care About Solutions to Prescription Drug Costs
By Sharon Pearce
September 4, 2016
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People working in health care often feel our profession is a calling. Many nurses like me have had firsthand experiences with quality, compassionate care and we decided at a young age that this would be our career. For us, it is difficult to watch what is happening with the prices of the prescription drugs our patients need — and we want to help find solutions.

In my role as a nurse anesthetist, I bear witness to skyrocketing pharmaceutical drug prices every day. Patients usually don’t select their anesthesia for surgery, childbirth and other procedures. But today, nurse anesthetists, along with physicians, are being forced to decide between increasingly expensive drugs and cheaper alternatives without data to compare the differences in outcomes. Financial burden versus medical efficacy — it’s a choice no one wants to make.

The impacts don’t end in the recovery room, either. Alarming price hikes have hit antibiotics, pain-relief medications and other treatments. Nurse anesthetists assist in heart surgeries, knowing that afterward the patient will probably take costly cholesterol-lowering drugs for life. We help as cancerous tumors are removed, realizing the drugs needed to beat the disease have become overwhelmingly expensive.

Sometimes you can tell by a family member’s face that the family doesn’t have health insurance, and every penny will somehow have to come from their own pockets. Even with a health plan or government-supplied coverage, there are still costs we all bear. Prescription drugs are driving health insurance premiums ever higher, beyond what companies can afford. Employees are contributing more toward their families’ insurance. Health-care workers are no exception — we, too, are seeing our take-home pay shrink. Moreover, we share with every American the concern that drug prices are bankrupting Medicare, Medicaid and other government health-care programs. When the cost of one treatment for every beneficiary who needs it outstrips a program’s entire pharmaceutical budget, rationing of care soon follows, and many veterans, senior citizens and the poor are left to suffer.

Policymakers need to recognize that pharmaceutical drugs are now an essential part of most treatment regimens. They must require of manufacturers the same transparency asked of hospitals, health insurance companies and other providers. After all, patients don’t volunteer to get sick and have little choice but to seek treatment. They should not be taken advantage of. Patients and their doctors deserve access to reliable data comparing medicines’ price, efficacy and value so they can make the right decisions. Pharmaceutical manufacturers should also reveal cost information during the drug-approval process, so government officials can budget effectively. And drug makers should be required to explain to regulators the reasoning behind any steep price increase.

The greatest impact on prices, however, will come from increased competition. In other markets, when one company’s prices get too high, another will step in with a lower cost alternative. But with pharmaceuticals, this isn’t happening enough. Sometimes that’s because of drawn-out processes and backlogs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Other times, it’s because drug makers are abusing the system. Both issues should be addressed. Our elected leaders will only take action if voters make it known that pharmaceutical prices are a top priority in earning their support this fall. Each of us, therefore, has a responsibility to North Carolina’s patients. Let’s join together and demand that something be done about out-of-control prescription drug prices.