Health groups seek stories of high prescription drug costs in New London

Health workers and volunteers have one question for New London residents on Saturday: Do you have trouble paying for prescription drugs?

Stephen Smith, a physician at the Community Health Center in New London, is leading the first of what he hopes will be several statewide "listening booth" events on Saturday, during which Smith and volunteers with three health care organizations will collect the stories of people who have struggled with the often high costs of prescription drugs.

Smith said he and representatives from the three organizations will stand at New London's Parade Plaza on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. soliciting stories about high drug costs. People can share their stories anonymously or give their names; volunteers will also be taking photos of willing participants to add to a printed collection they will share with Connecticut's state and congressional lawmakers.

The volunteers, who represent a joint effort of the Protect Our Care CT Campaign, the Universal Health Care Foundation of CT and the state chapter of National Physicians Alliance, will use the stories to encourage lawmakers to support policies that would bring down the cost of those drugs.

Smith said he has seen patients at the New London Community Health Care office hospitalized because they couldn't afford the drugs to treat asthma and diabetes patients lose a leg because they could not afford insulin.

Connecticut legislators passed a bill in 2017 that outlawed "gag clauses" preventing pharmacists from telling consumers that they could save money by paying cash for generic drugs instead of using brand-name drug. And last month, they passed a bill that goes into effect in 2020, requiring drug companies, insurers, and other health industry players to disclose more information to state government about their pricing.

But those measures don't address the gap between the costs that drugmakers charge and what insurance companies will cover, Smith said.

"That's good, but it's barely a first step," Smith said. "There's a lot more we can do."

Smith cited a bill the Maryland legislature passed last year that would allow that state's attorney general to take legal action against drug companies if they dramatically increase their prices — which a federal appeals court struck down in April — and a proposal in a recent New England Journal of Medicine article to create a nonprofit generic drug manufacturer.

Last month President Donald Trump unveiled a plan to bring down drug prices that focused on private competition but did not include measures that are expected to stop drugmakers from setting high initial prices and did not follow through on a proposal to allow the federal Medicare program to negotiate lower prices for seniors, the Associated Press reported.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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