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Ellison turns to task force in drug-price debate

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Attorney General Keith Ellison speaks with people dealing with high prescription costs ahead of a news conference to announce a task force on the issue. Brian Bakst | MPR News

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison began forming a task force Thursday that has a mission of coming up with proposals to lower prescription drug prices.

The panel will include people dealing with rising drug costs, medical professionals and an insurance industry representative. Four legislators -- two from each party and each chamber -- will also be members. Ellison, a first-term DFLer, said he has no plan to appoint anyone from the prescription drug industry.

“We certainly will allow them to apply. Look, this is a ‘lowering drug prices task force’ so I’m not really going to look favorably at someone who thinks the status quo is acceptable,” Ellison said at a news conference. “But if there is a manufacturer who thinks, ‘Hey, I’ve got a way to lower drug prices’ that would be, I think, to the advantage of the rest of us to hear their perspective.”

PhRMA’s Nick McGee, director of public affairs for the industry trade group, said drug companies also want solutions that work for patients but notes there are multiple players in the medication supply chain.

“Any serious discussion should include all actors because it’s going to take work from all stakeholders – including biopharmaceutical companies – to do our part to fight for what patients want and need,” McGee said in a written statement that asked for “a seat at the table and an opportunity to provide our perspective on solutions that have a meaningful impact on patients.”

Ellison’s 15-person advisory task force won’t be in place before late March, so it might not be in position to influence decisions made this legislative session.

In the meantime, Ellison is pressing ahead with lawsuits initiated by his predecessor against some drug manufacturers. He’s also endorsed bills to demand more transparency and combat possible price gouging.

People who have gone without prescription medication or rationed joined Ellison at the news conference in demanding change to drug pricing.

Alisa Clemons of Minneapolis said she’s struggled to afford drugs to control effects of lupus -- and said she is far from alone.

“I ask that you not see this as a party issue because we really are in serious pain and we need this help,” Clemons said.

Christy Kuehn, of Lakeland, shared how her diabetic husband cut his insulin medication to stretch out the supply as the family fights with an insurance company and others over the cost. Kuehn said his health has declined and the family is emotionally spent.

“It’s been awful,” Kuehn said. “It’s a stressful thing we deal with every day. Sleepless nights. My husband is ill quite frequently. So it really impacts our lives drastically.”