Jared Polis: Health care should always be about people over profit
March 1, 2018
Many of the worst and scariest moments in our lives revolve around health care for ourselves or our loved ones. We're never more vulnerable and scared than when we place life-altering decisions about our well-being in the hands of others. In these very human moments, the last thing anyone wants is the profits of corporations taking precedence over our family's needs.
And yet, frequently, that's what happens. Pharmaceutical companies often make life-saving medications outrageously expensive simply because they can. And they get away with it because when faced with a choice between losing your life savings and losing your child's life, who wouldn't give up their savings?
Markets are amazing at promoting innovation and efficiency, but the fact that Americans spend 10 times as much on the exact same prescription drug as Canadians or Brits is simply a market failure that costs American lives. I'm committed to doing everything I can as governor to bring universal health care to Colorado. To make that vision a reality, we need to stop pharmaceutical price gouging that prevents Coloradans from accessing the prescriptions they need to stay healthy.
Here in Colorado, we can take action. We should require pharmaceutical companies to justify exorbitant price increases that vastly outpace inflation, and penalize companies that discriminate against Americans. We should improve transparency of drug costs by requiring pharmaceutical companies to publicly disclose development, manufacturing, marketing and distribution costs to ensure patients are paying a fair price.
One of the biggest hurdles to making prescriptions more affordable is the prohibition on reimporting them from other nations. To help lower costs in Colorado, as governor I will demand the federal government allow our state to reimport prescription drugs from Canada, provided they meet strict safety standards.
We also cannot ignore the link between bad actors in the pharmaceutical industry and the opioid epidemic that is ravaging Colorado communities. I was proud to see Colorado's Huerfano County leading the way in holding the industry accountable for how their deceptive marketing practices around opioids have helped fuel addiction. Their lawsuit sends a clear message that no company should profit from getting people addicted to opioids.
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Stopping deceptive marketing practices is a necessary step in combating the opioid epidemic, but it is hardly all we need to do. As governor, I will collaborate with health professionals, pharmacies and community leaders to implement the best practices from the Colorado Alternatives to Opioids project to prescribe safer medication for pain management when possible. I will fight to ensure patients have the freedom to try less harmful alternatives for pain management like medical marijuana, Kratom, acupuncture/acupressure and massage. Together, we can help prevent addiction before it begins.
What makes opioid addiction even more heartbreaking is that so many people who suffer from it end up in the criminal justice system instead of in a health care facility where they can get better. Again, we have the perverse incentives of a special interest getting in the way of what makes sense medically. In this case, it's the incentive of for-profit prisons and others involved in the system of mass incarceration to fill prison beds.
The criminalization of health care affects not just those suffering from addiction, but also those living with mental illness. Fortunately, there are several steps we can take to break this cycle.
First, I will work with local law enforcement groups to develop best practices for directing low-level drug offenders to treatment rather than jail. This will help end the cruel cycle of recidivism, and redirect our law enforcement to provide individuals struggling with mental illness or addiction pathways to treatment through case managers rather than jail.
Second, we can emphasize harm reduction by using foundational and grant funding opportunities to help those participating in needle exchanges access effective treatment services. I also will work with the Legislature to increase the number of school-based health clinics in rural and urban Colorado that are able to offer treatment for addiction.
And finally, we can make major improvements to Colorado's mental-health system, starting in childhood. It is vital we improve the ability of school-based health clinics to not only conduct mental health assessments, but also to deliver treatment to students who need help. We also must work with educators to create plans for identifying the signs of suicide and intervening. And we must evaluate how our current mental-health systems are failing Coloradans with intellectual, developmental, physical and acquired disabilities. All human beings deserve dignity and opportunity, and that starts with making sure their basic health needs are met.
Health care is a human right. Corporate profits from market failures are not. Let's make Colorado a leader in translating that fundamental belief into policy that helps all of us in our time of greatest vulnerability.
Jared Polis is a Democratic candidate for Colorado governor and currently is the U.S. representative for Colorado's 2nd District. This editorial is the third in a series of three running this week on Polis' plans for health care in our state.