Local View: Minnesota drug board could endanger access to new treatments

From the column: "A Prescription Drug Affordability Board would add layers of regulation to an ecosystem that currently provides us with a pipeline of discovery."

Dave Granlund / Cagle Cartoons

Today, we stand on the cusp of mind-boggling achievements in life sciences. Research into improving the lives of current and future survivors has long been in Minnesota’s DNA: Where else would you find the birthplace of Metronic and its life-saving technologies and, of course, the global powerhouse in health, Mayo Clinic?

Years of hard work to improve human health is about to pay off in unimaginable ways.

Using CRISPR technology to produce genetically targeted therapeutic solutions, the University of Minnesota and other top medical research facilities are unlocking some of humanity’s most elusive and lethal conditions. The medical innovation happening in our state and in the U.S. can’t be overstated.

I’m proud of my adopted state; I married into a Minnesota family, raised four boys just outside the Twin Cities, and shuttled them to play hockey on too many rinks to count. But Minnesota is more than a great place to live. As a survivor with multiple sclerosis, the care I received here made it clear I was among allies, united to advance human health.

So it’s extremely concerning to learn of efforts to get our state government to consider a policy that would put roadblocks between patients and their needs.


Instead of celebrating breakthrough medicines, special interests have carved out a controlled way to cut off a necessary treatment before it gets to a patient. Specifically, bills were introduced in St. Paul this session (H.F. 17 and S.F. 168) to implement a Prescription Drug Affordability Board, a group of bureaucrats playing god and determining if saving a life with a breakthrough treatment is “affordable.” The board would not be there to help get someone access to life-saving medication but to determine if it should even be an option.

I can understand the good intentions that may have once driven this idea, especially the desire to see that critical costs are affordable wherever possible. But someone doesn’t have to have an economics degree to know that government price controls never work. In fact, they almost always result in doing the opposite of what was intended.

It’s unlikely to be different this time.

One of the tasks of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board would be to enable the state government to enforce an “upper payment limit” on certain drugs, which inevitably would cause a statewide prescription-drug shortage. Pharmacies would only be able to purchase a drug at or below this set price, making it impossible to acquire treatments above the price mandated by the government. The unfortunate reality is that physicians would not be able to deliver the appropriate care to their patients fighting cancer or other rare diseases that require advanced treatment options.

Not only that, but a Prescription Drug Affordability Board would add layers of regulation to an ecosystem that currently provides us with a pipeline of discovery, adding unnecessary risk to the hope millions are praying for.

Besides killing hope for cures, the proposed Prescription Drug Affordability Board in Minnesota is looking like nothing more than a tool for big insurance companies to avoid paying for patient needs. In fact, this seems a clever ploy to kill the longstanding and bipartisan policy that protects patients with pre-existing conditions. With a board to do their dirty work, insurance companies can dodge having to pay to help a young person fight cystic fibrosis if a quasi-governmental body says a drug fails its affordability test.

Minnesota lawmakers’ desire to help hometown interests like United Healthcare, OptumRx, and similar companies is understandable, but this attempt to stack the deck must be exposed for how much harm this could mean for patients.

The question before us is simple: Do Minnesotans want to secure a brighter future for those battling illness or do they want to be used to insert a special-interest “kill switch” to scuttle previously unimaginable cures?


As a patient, survivor, and adopted Minnesotan, I know what my answer is. What about yours?

John Czwartacki is a multiple sclerosis survivor and the founder and chairman of the advocacy group Survivors for Solutions ( He splits his time between Edina, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

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John Czwartacki

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