Opinion: Protecting prescription drug affordability for California families

Prescription drugs
Prescription drugs. Photo courtesy of CVS Health

For me, health care is personal — it always will be. I was studying to become a chemical engineer until I learned that my great-grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a terrible disease with few proven treatments and only a supportive care regimen.

I wanted to know what I could do to help, so I changed career fields and became a pharmacist. For the past 16 years, I have supported patients at every stage of their care journey – from hearing about a difficult diagnosis to helping them manage a multi-year treatment plan.

I started at CVS Health as a Trainee Pharmacist and am now Pharmacy Manager working in Redlands. My team and I work tirelessly to ensure that our patients with rare or chronic diseases, such as hemophilia and sickle cell disease, have access to specialty drugs dispensed in our pharmacies.

In California, we have not only had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also wildfires which can make it difficult for patients to access the treatments and therapies they need. Each wildfire season, my team and I monitor where the fires are spreading to anticipate which of our patients might be affected, based on where they live. We then determine when each patient last received their medication and contact them to ensure there is no interruption in treatment, especially if they need to evacuate their home.

My team and I recently helped a child who is suffering from infantile seizures. When the hospital did not have the necessary medications, we pooled our resources to obtain the medications from our nearest specialist pharmacy and delivered them to the hospital, where the child was stabilized and then discharged home. him where the treatment continued. We were able to reduce the family’s share of the cost of a drug from $150,000 to just a $200 co-pay and reduce the child’s hospital stay.

While access to these medications is essential, especially for patients managing complex illnesses, the high list prices of prescription drugs can be a burden for many people in California, especially working families and members. underserved communities. In 2021, specialty drugs accounted for more than half of all prescription drug spending.

CVS Caremark, the Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) of CVS Health, has made significant strides in the fight for prescription drug affordability. In California, we proudly serve many employers, unions, health plans and state public health programs by negotiating with major pharmaceutical companies to save patients money.

In 2021, we held prescription drug cost growth to just 3.6%, and more than 40% of our customers saw an overall decline in drug costs compared to the prior year. We did this even as big pharma raised the prices of many drugs at or above the rate of inflation.

In California and in state houses across the country, legislatures assess the value of PBMs. As Sacramento lawmakers weigh proposals to combat prescription drug pricing, it’s critical they keep in mind the valuable role PBMs play and the harms that would result from restricting use. PBM tools to reduce costs. I urge our legislators to instead focus on the real source of rising prescription drug costs: the high prices set by big pharma.

Caring for all members of our community will always remain personal to me. We need to make access to health care more affordable — not harder — by breaking down barriers to affordability and high list prices for prescription drugs.

Gregory Harrington is Pharmacy Manager for CVS Specialty in Redlands.

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