State solutions to bring down drug prices face steep resistance from drug industry

There are plenty of ways to tackle rising drug prices, experts say—if they aren't blocked by industry first.

Even as states increasingly take legislative action on drug prices, they have been blocked by pharmaceutical companies in court, said Jane Horvath, senior policy fellow at the National Academy for State Health Policy, at a forum hosted in D.C. by Kaiser Permanente's Institute for Health Policy.

"There's a whole constellation of problems or hurdles to be overcome, which is why state policy around drug prices is looking insane and just crazy," Horvath said. 

Drug prices have been a central issue for health agencies under the Trump administration, with both President Donald Trump and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar putting a focus on the problem. The White House has laid out a plan to reduce drug costs, but experts are skeptical that it will be effective in light of the potential legal hurdles.

RELATED: How CVS kept drug costs down despite soaring inflation 

FiercePharma reported that in Maryland, Nevada and California, lawmakers have passed bills to challenge drug pricing. But, they reported, industry trade group PhRMA filed suit against the bills in California and Nevada, and the Association for Accessible Medicines sued in Maryland.

Among other arguments, PhRMA said both the California and Nevada laws are "unprecedented and unconstitutional" because they impact commerce in other states, FiercePharma reported. PhRMA has also launched the "Let's talk about cost" campaign to address some of the factors in drug pricing.

Oregon state Rep. Andrea Salinas is one of the state legislators trying to take on drug prices. She worked on a bill that would compare prices of drugs sold Oregon to the price of those same drugs in the top 5 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.  

If costs in those countries were lower, drug companies would have to charge the same price to Oregonians, Salinas said. The bill ultimately failed. "I realized we have to take baby steps," Salinas said. 

Instead, the state passed a drug price transparency law. Pharmaceutical companies are still unhappy with the measure, and Horvath expects a legal challenge in Oregon in the near future. 

RELATED: Report—Brand-name drug prices grew 10 times faster than inflation over the last 5 years  

The FDA and Congress may be in a position to address cost concerns, experts say.

Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., who previously served as Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, said the current FDA leadership has given the issue unprecedented attention. McClellan said he expects the FDA to take actions, such as clarifying guidance to bring biosimilars to market and allowing drug developers to import samples to hasten studies on possible generics. 

RELATED: HHS appoints 2 new advisers to tackle the opioid epidemic and drug pricing reform 

The focus on drug pricing creates momentum for bipartisan action in Congress, said Norm Ornstein, Ph.D., resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. With the GOP bracing for a potentially massive blue wave in November, the chance that the two parties could come together on drug pricing grows, he said. 

"Fear is a great motivator for action," Ornstein said.