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Coalition Takes Aim At Prescription Drug Costs in CA

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Earl Lui, Consumers Union (415) 431-6747 or (415) 601-6747 (cell)
Nathan Ballard, California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO (510) 663-4050
Jodi Reid, California Alliance for Retired Americans (415) 550-0828

Senior, Consumer and Labor Groups Launch Campaign to Lower Prescription Drug Costs
OURx Bill of Rights Campaign Supports Broad Legislative Reforms

Sacramento—A coalition of senior, consumer, and labor groups announced today they are taking aim at prescription drug costs this legislative session. At press events in Sacramento and Los Angeles, the groups touted a package of prescription drug measures designed to rein in soaring costs, improve access to medication, curb deceptive marketing, and help consumers make more informed choices.
“Rising prescription drug costs are hitting the pocketbook of every Californian,” said Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO). “Those who have insurance are seeing co-payments and health premiums rise, and those without insurance must sometimes choose between buying the medications they need and paying for groceries.”
The OURx Bill of Rights Campaign includes AARP, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, CALPIRG, California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA), California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), Consumer Federation of California, Consumers Union, Greenlining Institute, Health Access, and Senior Action Network.
The coalition highlighted mounting statistical evidence for why lawmakers must begin to address the prescription drug issue. Between 1980 and 2002, U.S. prescription drug spending ballooned from $12 billion to $162.4 billion, 47% of large California employers that provide prescription drug coverage increased employee co-payments in 2002, and 57% said they were somewhat or very likely to do so again in 2003.
Nan Brasmer, President of the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA), noted that twenty-nine percent of Americans failed to fill a prescription in 2000 because they could not afford to do so.
“Seniors are often hit the hardest by outrageous prescription drug prices,” said Brasmer. “Out-of-pocket costs have soared, many of us can’t buy the prescriptions we need, and drug companies are making out like bandits.”
The coalition highlighted the fact that Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies’ profits rose 33% in 2001, making it the most profitable industry in the world, and pointed to the industry’s marketing as a major reason why. Between 1994 and 2000, money spent on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs increased from $266 million to $2.5 billion. Further, the pharmaceutical industry
employs 83,000 sales representatives and spends upward of $4.8 billion a year on one-on-one promotion to doctors, with 20,000 of those representatives located in California.
“Big drug companies incessantly market their expensive, big name drugs to both consumers and doctors, but often existing, less expensive drugs are just as good as newer ones,” said Earl Lui, a Senior Attorney for Consumers Union. “We need more objective information about which drugs really are the best.”
The OURx Bill of Rights legislative package includes measures that would allow consumers to make more informed drug choices, protect them against deceptive marketing and pricing practices, and explore avenues for making prescription drugs more affordable for California consumers and taxpayers.
Steve Blackledge of CALPIRG stated that the drug industry will likely oppose the coalition’s efforts, and pointed to the fact that PhRMA, the trade association for the drug companies, budgeted $150 million for July 2003 to June 2004 for lobbying, including $45 million to fight state efforts to lower drug prices.
“The large pharmaceutical companies will oppose these commonsense measures, but it’s the type of strong medicine they’ll have to swallow if we’re going to make prescription drug prices more affordable for California’s consumers,” said Blackledge.
“Real prescription drug reform requires a unified effort between California consumers and our elected leaders. The OURx campaign is a grassroots effort led by seniors, consumers, and workers designed to ensure that lawmakers hear from their constituents on this important issue,” concluded Bramer of CARA.