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Open Enrollment Health Insurance

Congressman Hank Johnson

Representing the 4th District of Georgia

Rep. Johnson's statement on “Treating the Opioid Epidemic: The State of Competition in the Markets for Addiction Medicine” RRCAL

September 23, 2016
Speech

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Today’s hearing is an important and welcome opportunity to discuss drug price competition in the market for treating opioid addiction. 

Opioid addiction is a devastating public-health emergency in many of our communities. 

Strongly linked to the prescription of opioid painkillers, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that opioids contributed to the deaths of 28,647 Americans in 2014.

While there are many factors that have contributed to this crisis, concerns have been raised that common treatments for opioid addiction have become more costly. 

In November 2014, the New York Times reported that naloxone, a common treatment for opioid addiction and overdoses, had experienced severe price spikes.

Alarmingly, in my home state of Georgia, police departments report that the price of drug kits containing naloxone have increased from $22 to $40. 

I am concerned that in addition to costing states millions of dollars, these spikes have decreased access and undermined the ability of law enforcement and local health responders to combat the opioid crisis.

Unfortunately for many, these concerns extend to the markets for other life-saving treatments as well. 

For example, I am personally concerned about the high costs of the new treatment for Hepatitis C, a virus that affects more than four million Americans, which costs nearly $75,000.

While this form of treatment is a significant advancement, particularly for patients with a form of the disease that’s difficult to treat, there is little doubt that Americans should not have to choose between liver disease and extreme financial hardship when making healthcare choices.

Life-saving treatments and drugs should not be out of reach for working people and everyday Americans. Healthcare should be available to everyone, not just the 1%.

As millions of Americans struggle in the fight against this silent epidemic, treatments must be accessible and affordable.

According to a study by Dr. Aaron Kesselmheim and others recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association, one of the driving forces in high drug prices is protection from competition through market exclusivity.

Our patent system is designed to promote innovation by conferring a limited monopoly on inventions that are novel, useful, and non-obvious. 

It is critical that our policies continue to place a high value on innovation.

As the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found in 2012, leading research indicates that the “economics literature generally indicates that innovation in medical products has produced tremendous benefits for U.S. consumer in longer and healthier lives.” 

But it is equally important that patent-extension applications are carefully scrutinized to ensure competition in drug markets through generic drug availability.

As Dr. Kesselmheim’s study noted, there is little evidence that pro-competitive policies will hamper innovation. In fact, they may even drive new therapies to market.

While this hearing only concerns the market for addition medicine, I hope that it will also be instructive on drug price competition generally.

I look forward to today’s hearing—we have a truly excellent panel of witnesses—and I yield back the balance of my time.

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