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  1. Opinion

Column: A new prescription for saving Floridians money on drug costs

Tablets, caplets, and capsules
Tablets, caplets, and capsules
Published Mar. 15, 2019

BY JOHN COURIS

Special to the Times

Drug prices in the United States are out of control, and I'm thrilled to see that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida legislators are doing something about it this session. Their plan to import safe, more affordable drugs from FDA-approved facilities in other countries will save Floridians up to 80 percent on what they currently pay for prescription drugs. That's a plan I'm proud to stand behind.

Health care costs in America are astronomical, and the exorbitant costs of prescription drugs contribute significantly to the price we pay for health care. Americans spend $3.5 trillion per year on health care, and $334 billion (or roughly 10 percent) of that spending is on prescription drugs. Meanwhile, drugs produced in other countries can be just as safe and far more affordable.

As president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, I see the impact of out-of-control costs for prescription drugs on our patients. More than 669,000 patients seek care here at Tampa General Hospital every year, and often the cost of prescription drugs stands in the way of their health and well-being. Some patients choose not to take them because they can't afford them, and their condition may worsen. Often, we see patients who have conditions that could have been prevented if they could have purchased and taken their prescription drugs.

What we're seeing at Tampa General is true for patients nationwide. About one in three people don't fill a prescription or don't take their medicine as prescribed due to the high cost of prescription drugs, according to a 2017 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The result? Not taking medication as prescribed caused approximately 125,000 deaths and at least 10 percent of hospitalizations, estimates a review in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Because they get sicker and are hospitalized more often, patients who don't stick to their prescribed drug regimens cost the American health care system an estimated $100 billion to $290 billion a year, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Think about the savings we could enact in Florida if we could bring drug prices more in line.

Residents of the Sunshine State need access to reasonably priced medications. Such access supports our entire health care system by helping to keep costs down. Patients with access to affordable medications are more likely to stay healthier and need less costly care.

The proposal to import safe and affordable drugs to Florida was heard last week in the Florida Legislature by the House Health Quality Subcommittee. HB 19 is titled Prescription Drug Importation Programs. Sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, it would open our markets to safe, FDA-approved prescription drugs. There are already 300,000 facilities inspected and approved by the FDA in 150 countries. Allowing providers and consumers to access the products produced at these facilities will bring costs down, saving Floridians as much as 80 percent on prescription drugs.

The legislation stems from Gov. DeSantis's proposal last month, and it is a priority for House Speaker Jose Oliva. The measure earned a favorable vote in its first committee stop with support from both Republicans and Democrats on the committee.

This is a real opportunity for Florida to be a leader in putting the health and well-being of our patients above all else. At Tampa General, we applaud Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for working to bring down the cost of health care by bringing safe and affordable prescription drugs to Florida. Gov. DeSantis is showing thoughtful and deliberate leadership in his concern for Floridians' health.

John Couris is the president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital. You can connect with him and read more about his thoughts on health care management, legislation, and leadership at changewithcouris.com.

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