Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Legislature needs to protect the relationship between patients and doctors when it comes to biologics medications

The Health & Welfare Committee of the Idaho House of Representatives has a bill before it that, if passed, would prevent pharmacists from substituting complex specialty medications, known as biologics, with similar drugs, without notifying the prescribing doctor — a scenario that is now possible in Idaho. While HB 175 was introduced more than a month ago, the bill has not received a hearing. Those of us who support patient rights can only wonder why.

As the mother of a child with doctor-diagnosed juvenile arthritis, I am disturbed at the thought of a pharmacist giving my daughter any medication other than that which her doctor has prescribed, without, at the very least, notifying the doctor.

There are more than 1,500 children in Idaho currently living with juvenile arthritis. The House Health & Welfare Committee needs to know that Idaho’s parents are not willing to put our children at risk. The failure to alert doctors that a change in medication has been made could disrupt the critical relationship between patients and doctors, and undermine the doctor’s ability to provide the best possible care.

Biologic medications have been extremely successful at helping people living with arthritis, cancer, psoriasis and other chronic conditions to lead full and productive lives. Unlike most traditional prescription drugs that are made through chemical processes, biological products are generally made from organic materials. Unlike synthetic drugs and their generic counterparts, biologics can’t be replicated precisely.

This month, the first in a new class of medications called “biosimilars” has been approved by the FDA — with more soon to follow. Such medications are considered therapeutically equivalent with biologics and are predicted to have a lower cost. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that people with arthritis need access to a range of innovative medications, such as biosimilars, but not at the risk to patient safety.

Legislation similar to HB 175, requiring physician notification when a biosimilar is substituted for a biologic, has passed this year with very little opposition in Utah, Georgia, Colorado and Washington.

Fortunately, there is still time for the House Health & Welfare Committee to get this issue right by passing HB 175, which would require pharmacists to simply notify the prescribing doctor of a biologic substitution. On behalf of the parents of all children suffering from juvenile arthritis, I ask Chairman Wood and the House Health & Welfare Committee to hear H175.

In an ever-changing world of new innovations in health care, it’s critical that our laws keep pace in order to ensure the highest levels of care, clear communication between doctors and patients, and optimal outcomes, particularly for people living with various chronic conditions for which biologics can provide some relief.

Yolonda Barnes is Chair of Administrative Support, College of Western Idaho, a mother of a child with juvenile arthritis and an Arthritis Foundation Ambassador.