Targeting Skyrocketing Drug Prices, Yale Students Prepare Roadmap for Lawmakers

The Yale Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP), in collaboration with the National Physicians Alliance and the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, released a policy white paper, “Curbing Unfair Drug Prices: A Primer for States,” this week that seeks to advance state-level legislative efforts to rein in prescription drug prices by providing lawmakers with a clear picture of the strategies at their disposal.

The GHJP team, made up of five students and two faculty advisors from Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health, stressed that the high cost of prescription drugs in the United States is alarming and unsustainable. Spending on prescription drugs, both public and private, is increasing at a faster rate than any other component of health care spending, and a growing number of Americans report difficulty affording their medications.

“The status quo is wholly unacceptable. Drug companies continue to launch treatments at record-high prices, relying on self-cited and scientifically suspect justifications. Now more than ever, we need real evidence about the costs of drug development,” said Zain Rizvi ’17, a Yale Law School graduate and a lead author of the report.  

The paper is the culmination of the GHJP’s collaborative efforts to rein in prescription drug prices through state-level initiatives. As part of these efforts, GHJP supported a coalition of other organizations seeking drug pricing reforms at the state level. These efforts have led to several recent victories, including the successful passage of a groundbreaking fair pricing law in Maryland. New York and Nevada have also passed laws that promise to rein in prescription drug prices.

The report synthesizes GHJP and other organizations’ cumulative advocacy experience by analyzing promising approaches to lowering costs, including those already adopted in some states. The report also provides recommendations to lower prescription drug prices. These recommendations are relevant for legislators, advocates, and constituents.

Jill Zorn, senior policy officer at the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, one of the partner organizations of the policy paper, echoed the importance of state-level legislation in combatting exploitative pricing practices. “States can play a key role in protecting everyday people from unfair and unaffordable prescription drug prices. This paper provides a roadmap for states that are ready to fight back,” she said.

This is a policy area that is currently primed for another wave of legislative activity, and states will lead the charge.

Arielle Thomas, M.P.H. '17

In order to combat unfair drug pricing, the GHJP team focused on two specific categories of legislation: transparency laws, which seek to clarify the basis upon which drug companies set their launch prices, and price gouging laws, which explicitly prohibit either price increases or absolute launch prices above a certain threshold of unconscionability.

“We anticipate that local lawmakers will tailor our recommendations to the specific political and economic landscape in their respective communities,” said Arielle Thomas, a graduate of the Yale School of Public Health and a member of the GHJP team. “This is a policy area that is currently primed for another wave of legislative activity, and states will lead the charge.”

GHJP team members and collaborators also zeroed in on the human dimension of exploitative drug pricing and the tangible positive impact that local legislation can have on patients’ lives.

“As health care providers, we are increasingly seeing our patients make tough decisions, having to choose between paying for their costly, but necessary medicines or food on the table,” noted Dr. Reshma Ramachandran, co-chair of the National Physicians Alliance FDA Task Force and a leader of NPA’s work on high drug prices and a stakeholder in the report. “Now, at a critical time where millions face the possibility of not having coverage for these increasingly costly prescriptions, this report offers state policymakers concrete options to provide relief for their constituents.”

Adam Pan ’19, a student at Yale Law School and one of the lead authors of the report, echoed these sentiments. “Throughout the process of assembling this primer, we always returned to thinking about the impact these efforts will have on everyday American patients with a wide range of medical needs, many of whom are acutely feeling the pressure of expensive prescriptions in their daily lives,” he said.

The GHJP is a joint initiative between Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health that trains the next generation of scholars and practitioners to tackle the complex interdisciplinary challenges of global health. The initiative convenes international partners at the interface of law, governance, public health and medicine to help drive the social change necessary for improving the wellness of people around the world. 

 More information about the GHJP can be found at www.yaleghjp.org.


This article was submitted by Elisabeth Ann Reitman on August 8, 2017.