Southgate News Herald: Peters brings prescription cost listening tour to Southgate; promises event won't be a 'one and done'

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) continued his statewide listening tour on lowering prescription drug costs Thursday morning with a visit to Southgate.

The event was hosted at The Guidance Center, a non-profit that provides health services to the Downriver community. There, Peters met with an array of health professionals as well as patients for a discussion about the rising costs of drugs.

“This is a critical issue in our country," he said. "Prescription prices keep going up at rates that are far beyond inflation. Drug prices make difficult financial situations a lot more stressful, and I don’t think that’s acceptable in this country of ours.”

Peters told the group that he wanted to make sure the event wasn’t a “one and done,” and that their stories were part of a larger conversation about health care going forward.

The group went around the room, with each guest introducing themselves and sharing their experience dealing with the high cost of pharmaceuticals.

“Drug shortages impact hundreds of drugs each year, and there is a disincentive to produce them because they aren’t as profitable as others,” said Dr. Andrew Shuman, a cancer surgeon and medical ethicist.

Shuman gave examples of cancer drugs, infectious disease drugs and even simple things like vitamins and salt water as drugs that are susceptible to shortages.

“I’m interested in equipping the state to anticipate, mitigate and prevent shortages, but also share drugs between institutions when there are shortages," he said.

Shuman said there currently is no way of networking between doctors and pharmacists, and that he would like for Michigan to be a testing ground for an online database to make the process more efficient.

Sheron Williams, a breast cancer survivor who also suffers from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, shared her personal experiences with the group.

“Since I have a rare condition, the medication I take costs $600 per month, but I found a pharmacist who gets the drug from Canada and sells it,” Williams said, adding that it “felt like she was making a drug deal,” and that bringing the drug in from across the border dropped the cost to $50.

Comparing American drug prices to those in Canada came up several times throughout the discussion with Peters. He said that at the previous listening tour stop in Grand Rapids, a woman told him she went to Canada for her insulin, and paid just over 10 percent of what it costs in the United States.

Stephanie Kwiecien suffers from both Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as anemia, and said that without help from a third party, she would have had to pay $7,000 for a new insulin pump.

“I was lucky, but most people don’t have that," she said. "Most people are paying that $7,000 every four years.

While the pump was covered, Kwiecien said she still pays high costs for insulin and other vital drugs to get by, in addition to racking up massive credit card debt.

Afterward, Peters reflected on the stories he heard.

“The patients we heard from today are juggling an awful lot, and they’re just barely staying ahead with the costs of prescription drugs,” he said. “These drug companies tweak the formulas to keep their drugs on patents and keep the prices higher, we’ve got to end that practice.”

Peters said that lowering the cost of prescription drugs should not be a partisan issue.

“We need a more competitive marketplace to bring the costs down," he said. "I’ve introduced legislation to make it easier for generics to come into the market and get FDA approval quicker. This is about bringing down the costs for every American.”

The Senate Finance Committee approved provisions based on a bill Peters authored to hold drug companies accountable and help lower the cost of health care for seniors. Peters also helped to introduce legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prices on behalf of over 2 million Michiganders eligible for enrollment in Medicare Part D.

Kari Walker, CEO of the Guidance Center, said the discussion went well and he's happy that it took place at his facility.

“Rising health care and prescription drug costs are routinely roadblocks to our team’s mission of strengthening families and improving lives,” he said. “We appreciated the opportunity to host Senator Peters and discuss how we can make sure that Michiganders from all walks of life have access to the treatment they or their loved ones need.”

By:  Zach Russell
Source: Southgate News Herald