ONA Board Votes to Oppose November’s Drug Price Relief Act Because Of Unintended Consequences

By Lori Chovanak, MN, RN, APRN-BC, CEO

Remember the public outrage when the price of the EpiPen increased 500%, soaring from $103.50 in 2009 to more than $608.61 in 2016? The EpiPen isn’t the only prescription to increase – Pfizer Inc. raised the prices on 133 of its brand-name products last year with three quarters of those increases amounting to 10% or more.

There’s no question the skyrocketing price of medications is a problem for our patients. As nurses, we know how helpless we feel when a patient confides that he/she struggles to afford their medications, or worse, cannot afford them at all.

The Ohio Nurses Association learned earlier this year of an initiative set to appear on the statewide November ballot aimed at combating the rising costs of prescription medications. The initiative, titled the Prescription Drug Relief Act, promises to lower prescription prices by not allowing any public entity to pay more than the lowest amount paid by the VA system. ONA not only serves as the voice for all of Ohio’s nurses, but also for all of Ohio’s patients – and therefore we felt an obligation to find out more.

The Board of Directors began having healthy conversations with key stakeholders across the state, including other healthcare associations, governmental officials and representatives from the main backers of the ballot measure – The National Aids Health Foundation.  The ONA board concluded the ballot measure sounds like a great idea (who doesn’t want to lower the sky-rocketing costs of prescriptions?) but ultimately would not produce the desired result for our patients. We became gravely concerned with the initiative’s language and the feasibility of operationalizing such a measure, and fearful that in some instances could even make the problem worse. Therefore, the ONA Board of Directors voted to oppose the Prescription Drug Relief Act for the following reasons:

  1. The ballot could actually raise the cost of prescriptions. Yes, the initiative is SUPPOSED to provide relief. But, because of the wording, the opposite would likely happen. The initiative states that no public entity is to pay more than the lowest amount paid by the VA system. This language does not take into consideration rebates, and therefore, in many instances, medications could cost MORE than what the state is negotiating in their contracts currently.
  2. This initiative could restrict access to medication. The VA system has its own formulary, and therefore our patients could have decreased access to medications if a particular medication is not included within the VA’s formulary.
  3. It cannot be operationalized. The VA system has made it known that their contracts are not public, and that they have no intention of making those contracts public. The entire initiative is based on the prices negotiated in those contracts. If those are not public, there is no way to operationalize the measure.

ONA and the board of directors are committed to seeking solutions to lowering the cost of drug prices. We’re disappointed that a feasible solution is not part of this November’s ballot, but look forward to working with key stakeholders in the future to find a solution that’s right for our patients.