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Skyrocketing prescription drug costs make health disparities worse

Brief filed in support of Maryland anti-price gouging law

December 6, 2017: 5,000%. That’s how much the price of the drug Daraprim rose in August 2015. The leap from $17.63 per pill to $750 per pill stunned thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS and cancer who are typically affected by the parasitic infection that Daraprim treats. Many of these people had limited financial resources and insurance coverage to absorb the increased cost, putting them at risk of brain and organ damage, blindness, and death.

In 2017, Maryland enacted an anti-price gouging law to prevent situations like this. The law gives the state attorney general the authority to compel drug manufacturers to explain unconscionable price increases and penalize companies where appropriate. Not surprisingly, a pharmaceutical trade group called the Association for Accessible Medicines challenged the law in court. On December 6, the Public Justice Center, Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative Education Fund, and Disability Rights Maryland filed an amicus brief in support of the law in Association for Accessible Medicines v. Frosh, highlighting in detail the disparate impact price gouging has on racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and low-income health care consumers. Another amicus brief focusing on the impact of elders was filed by AARP Foundation and other groups.

The brief describes how these individuals historically have been at a disadvantage in accessing quality health care, including prescription drugs. From lack of health insurance to physician bias in treatments, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes are less likely to get the care they need. Spiking drug costs exacerbate the inequity and make it difficult for people to afford medicines necessary to treat chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, depression and asthma. People are left to suffer from preventable and treatable conditions. We hope the brief will help the Court understand the need for Maryland’s anti-price gouging law to shield the state’s most vulnerable residents from additional disparities and assist them in pursuing equal access to health care.

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