Feds must step in to fix U.S. problem with soaring prescription drug costs, Cancela says

By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, has earned a reputation at the Nevada Legislature as a lawmaker who based her career, in part, on drug transparency laws and other attempts to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Yet the federal government must step up in a big way to solve the problem of soaring prescription drug prices, she said on Nevada Newsmakers.

“The federal government needs to take action, in a big way, on the high cost of prescription drugs,” Cancela told host Sam Shad. “And in the meantime, states have the opportunity to be innovative and do as much as possible to do what they can to lower costs.”


Until there is federal legislation, many people who need live-saving medication will be forced to go outside of U.S. borders, she said.

“Two weeks ago, a group of diabetes patients did a caravan to Canada to purchase insulin to make a point about just how much lower drug prices are just across the border,” Cancela said. “And it is something that goes back to the need of a federal action. That is not something a state can fix. We can enable ourselves to be able to trade with Canada and buy drugs in Canada like we already have.

“But until there is a significant overhaul of the entire drug pricing system in the U.S., it will still be true that when we go to Canada or Mexico or anywhere else on the globe, drug costs are lower,” she said. “That doesn’t make sense for patients. It is just wrong. Just wrong.

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

“Morally, that is so disheartening because we as a country have so much prosperity,” she said. “There is so much here in the US where we are top-notch in everything we do. And yet people who are sick have to rely on other counties that have figured out a scheme that allows for lower drug costs that we have not figured out in the United States.”

In 2017, Cancela’s bill to required drug manufacturers to notify the state in advance of planned price increases for diabetes-related drugs was approved by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Yet the proposal was attached to another piece of drug prescription legislation that was signed by Sandoval.

This session, her bill to add asthma medication to Nevada’s prescription drug transparency law awaits final approval by the Assembly before to goes to Gov. Steve Sisolak to sign it into law.

SB 378, however, is perhaps the most far-reaching prescription drug proposal sponsored by Cancela this session. It would have established a statewide Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which would monitor soaring drug prices. It was modeled after a Maryland proposal that became law last month, establishing the first state prescription drug affordability board in the U.S.

Yet she will redo that bill, partly because Sisolak is expecting to propose a Patient Protection Commission to review all aspects of Nevada’s health care system.

“My bill is going to be changed significantly with the governor enacting or bringing forward the Patient Protection Commission and with the opportunity to take some time and maybe see how Maryland’s law plays out,” Cancela said.

Instead, she will change the bill to create an interim study on the high cost of prescription drugs.

“I am not sure we are ready to enact a drug-pricing board just yet but it is where I would like to get to,” she said. “In the meantime, I will continue to keep pushing on the federal government and seeing what else other states are doing on the high cost of prescription drugs.

It is price gouging that is literally costing us lives, everyday,” she said.

She does not see a “Medicare for All” system to solve the nation’s health-care issues, even though some Democratic presidential candidates have touted it or a “single-payer system” while campaigning.

“Really, ‘Medicare for All’ is just three words that are much more a political slogan than a policy proposal. There is a lot of work that needs to happen before we can actually get to a place that is a viable option. That’s not to say that it should not be (an option). Absolutely, it should be. It is kind of crazy we don’t have a pubic option, like most other developed countries.”

“Medicare for All’ is a product of people’s frustration with the nation’s health-care system, Cancela said.

“When we hear ‘Medicare for All,’ and we hear people getting excited and we hear that as a movement, what I interpret that to be is people expressing a deep frustration our health care system the way it is. They are longing for something that creates balance, that creates lower costs for all.”

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