Anchor: Those suffering from chronic pain are looking for relief, and they’re actually turning to Beacon Hill for help. A new bill will help make drugs for chronic and rare diseases more affordable, drugs many fear they’ll have to go without, simply because they can’t afford them. Joining us today is Sue Nesci, Director at the Arthritis Foundation, to talk more about what’s going on here. First of all, Sue is there a real fear among people that they may actually have to go without their medicine?

Nesci: Yes, because these drugs can cost anywhere from twenty thousand to over one hundred thousand dollars, and what’s happening is, insurers, instead of spreading the risk across everybody are targeting people who are taking these drugs, and asking them, instead of a fixed co-pay to pay co-insurance—a percentage. And that percentage can be anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the cost of the drug.

Anchor: Those numbers are staggering—how did we get to this point?

Nesci: Well, this has been building. As more and more of these biologic drugs have come into the field, the cost has gone up—but this only affects about two to three percent of the population, so it’s a very small group of people who have a very large bill.
Anchor: So you hear about these miracle drugs that are doing great things….but they can’t do their thing if people can’t afford to take them.

Nesci: Right. Let me tell you about a call I got yesterday. I had a 34 year-old woman call me, she just received a $10,000 bill for her medications that she wasn’t aware of and she can’t pay it. And without its, she’s at risk for going blind from Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Lavanchy: So, what’s the bill now on Beacon Hill and how would that help?

Nesci: It would cap out of pocket payments–$1250 for an individual, $2500 for a family. So, instead of these escalating percentages that go on and on, people would know and they’d be able to plan in their budget—because who can afford to take $10,000 out of their yearly budget?

Anchor: So if this woman gets a bill for $10,000 in the example you just raised, it’s capped for a family at $2500, how’s the difference then made up?

Nesci: They spread it out like insurance is supposed to be, and Vermont has done this and it’s been almost a negligible effect on premiums.

Lavanchy: How are you finding the response to this bill on Beacon Hill—where does it stand right now? How far is it from becoming law?

Nesci: We’re trying to get it to the floor—it’s very close. And session is about to close, so it’s very important that this bill gets through this year.

Lavanchy: Do you get the sense this is going to make it—has this been kicking around for awhile?

Nesci: This is this year, and it’s critical for the folks we serve. It’s not only people with arthritis, but multiple sclerosis, cancer, leukemia and lymphoma. In fact there are 15 non profits like the Arthritis Foundation involved in this effort and asking our lawmakers to push the bill through and help our folks.

Lavanchy: Is there anything else that can be done to bring down the costs of some of these medications?

Nesci: Actually, this will help a lot, but getting people to take their medication, and making access easier, this is one way we’re doing that.

Lavanchy: Okay, we’ll be watching on Beacon Hill, again, you hope this gets done quickly, because if not, you’ll be back at square one. Alright, Sue Nesci from the Arthritis Foundation, thanks for being with us.