Drug bill would do more harm than good

It's easy to bash drug companies. When the consumer list price of something like Mylan's EpiPen rises to $609 from $94 in just seven years, bashing comes easily.

But one solution proposed to the Oregon House of Representatives seems almost guaranteed to make the problem worse, the sponsors' good intentions notwithstanding. While having government decide what's a reasonable price for a drug might sound like a good idea, it's one more likely to go wrong than not.

Prescription drugs make up about 9.8 percent of what the nation spent on drugs as of 2014, just as they did in 1960, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control.

If House Bill 2387 is approved, the state will set up something called the Oregon Premium Protection Program, which would require manufacturers of expensive drugs or those with rapidly rising prices to justify their prices. Then, the state would demand rebates based on what prices were paid in a select group of other countries. Rebates would go to the insurers, and the bill would bar the benefits boards of public employee unions from collecting any out-of-pocket costs from workers for drugs deemed to be too expensive.

Oregon makes up only about 1.2 percent of the U.S. population, making it easy for a manufacturer to refuse to sell here. The group of nations against which Oregon prices would be measured do pay less for drugs than we do. But each one bargains for the country as a whole, and no one in the U.S., much less Oregon, does that. Locally, there's this: Central Oregon has a growing bioscience sector that could be hurt by the punitive nature of the measure.

Testimony at a public hearing on the bill made all those points, and while unions and insurance companies favored it, family doctors, ordinary citizens, AIDS activists and representatives of an ovarian cancer foundation, among others, all said the bill would do more harm than good. There's too much at stake not to take opponents' fears seriously. HB 2387 should be defeated.

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