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AARP AARP States Colorado Advocacy

Advocacy Wins for Consumers on Drug Prices, Utility Costs

Health care cost concept with multicolored medical drugs

The Colorado General Assembly moved to rein in soaring prescription drug costs with a series of bills that AARP Colorado says would provide some relief to those who rely on medication for chronic conditions and other illnesses.

The retail prices of brand-name drugs have exceeded general inflation every year since 2006, according to an analysis by AARP’s Public Policy Institute. 

Such increases leave many consumers with a tough choice: Pay for medications, or pay for rent, food and other necessities.

“Studies show that older Americans have issues with affordability. The pill splitting starts, or they don’t take the pills regularly, then health conditions worsen and hospitalizations increase,” says Carol Pace, 69, of Denver, an AARP volunteer advocate who testified at the legislative hearings. 

A recent study from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing noted that in 2019, 10.8 percent of Coloradans did not fill a prescription due to cost. Nationwide, when out-of-pocket costs for a patient are over $125, 45 percent of drugs are never picked up from the pharmacy.

The study also estimated that Colorado consumers, employers and other payers could save an average of 63 percent on some common drugs if they were imported from Canada, 84 percent if they were shipped from France or 78 percent if from Australia. 

 One new law allows Colorado to import prescription drugs from qualifying countries, expanding a measure passed in 2019 that permits access to lower-priced medications from Canada. The state still needs federal approval, however, to implement the import program.  

New oversights

A second new law creates the Colorado Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, which will examine costs and set upper payment limits on no more than 12 drugs per year. 

The board would conduct a review, for instance, if there were a cost increase of 10 percent or more for a one-year supply of a drug, if a brand-name medication costs $30,000 or more a year or
if a generic costs $100 or more per month.

The legislature also strengthened an insulin-pricing law to ensure that no one pays more than $100 for a 30-day supply of the drug. The initial law has become a national model, says Kelli Fritts, AARP Colorado’s director of advocacy. 

Another law created a competitive pharmacy benefits manager marketplace, to reduce state health insurance costs.

“We are always trying to save money for consumers, whether it be for prescription drugs or utilities,” Fritts says.

AARP supported a bill that extends the Office of Consumer Counsel, which represents the interests of utility customers in proceedings of the state Public Utilities Commission.  

“This is a big win based on our advocacy,” says Bill Levis, 73, of Greenwood Village, an AARP volunteer advocate. Renamed the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, it “now has authority in telecom cases, something that was removed in 2015,” he notes. 

“The office is critical. Over the 37 years that it has been in existence, it has saved consumers over a billion dollars,” says Levis, who served as the consumer counsel from 2009 to 2013. 

Cynthia Pasquale is a writer living in Denver.

More on Prescription Drug Prices:

Prescription Drug Prices Increased Faster Than Inflation

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