We bring you the third installment of our new feature, PAL Coalition Member Spotlights. In these Spotlights, we introduce you to our coalition members and give you the opportunity to hear from them about the work they do and the pressing concerns of their members.

Health Care For All (HCFA) is the sister organization to Community Catalyst (PAL’s parent organization) and a core member of the Prescription Access Litigation coalition.

We interviewed HCFA’s Consumer Health Policy Coordinator, Lisa Kaplan Howe about HCFA’s work on prescription drugs and their involvement with PAL lawsuits. Enjoy!

PAL: What is the mission of HCFA?

Lisa Kaplan Howe (LKH): HCFA seeks to create a consumer-centered health care system that provides comprehensive, affordable, accessible, culturally competent, high quality care and consumer education for everyone, especially the most vulnerable. We work to achieve this as leaders in public policy, advocacy, education and service to consumers in Massachusetts.

PAL: What is your role at HCFA?

LKH:I am the Consumer Health Policy Coordinator. I am a member of the policy team, and I manage our private market health care policy work and advocacy, including our private insurance and prescription drug work. I coordinate our newest coalition, the Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition, and I work with our health reform coalition, the Affordable Care Today (ACT!!) coalition.

Prescription Reform Coalition Launch at the Massachusetts State House

Prescription Reform Coalition Launch at the Massachusetts State House

PAL: How does the high cost of prescription drugs affect your constituency?

LKH:The high cost of prescription drugs impacts all Massachusetts residents. Growing numbers of people rely on medications to maintain their health and, even people who consider themselves generally healthy, may find themselves needing to take medications from time-to-time. The high cost of drugs threatens access to necessary medications and threatens peoples’ financial stability. Even the insured suffer from growing cost-sharing and premiums as a result of the cost of drugs. Massachusetts health reform and the stability of our state budget are also threatened by growing health care costs.

PAL: What is one thing you think should be done to change the way drugs are priced or marketed?

LKH: HCFA and the Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition have focused on ways that the state can take action against inappropriate drug marketing. One of our top priorities is a statewide ban on gifts to physicians.

Studies show that industry gifts inappropriately impact prescribing decisions, lead to unnecessary prescribing of the most expensive drugs instead of lower-cost and equally safe and effective alternatives and drive up the cost of drugs. Each year the pharmaceutical industry spends over $7 billion marketing to physicians. We all pay for the gifts, meals and other inducements they provide at the pharmacy counter. We are excited that our Senate President has introduced comprehensive cost control legislation in MA that includes the nation’s strongest gift ban.

PAL: What does your organization do to educate your members about prescription drug issues?

LKH: We launched the Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition in January. We have been working since then to make sure that our legislators and the general public understands the threat of excessive pharmaceutical marketing.

PAL: Has your organization been a plaintiff in one of PAL’s lawsuits?

LKH: We have been a plaintiff in several PAL lawsuits. (Celebrex, Neurontin anti-trust, OxyContin, Relafen, Tamoxifin, Wellbutrin, Lipitor, and AWP)

PAL: What was that experience like for you/your organization?

LKH: We value the opportunity to take a stand against inappropriate pharmaceutical marketing on behalf of our members and all MA residents. We do most of our work through legislation, and the PAL lawsuits are a great compliment to that work and our mission.

PAL: What are some of the most pressing needs of your members?

LKH: All Massachusetts residents suffer from the rising cost of health care. We are thrilled that since our comprehensive health reform law passed in April 2006, nearly 340,000 MA residents have become newly insured. It is an amazing accomplishment that immeasurably impacts people’s lives. However, we know that there are others who still cannot afford coverage. It will only be possible to ensure the long term success of health reform and to expand coverage to all MA residents if we take steps to fight the rise in all health care costs, including the cost of prescription drugs.

To learn more about Health Care for All, visit their website, and take a look at their blog, A Healthy Blog.

The Prescription Access Litigation coalition has more than 130 organizational members that represent over 13 million individuals. The coalition includes consumer advocacy organizations, senior citizen groups, health care advocacy groups, labor unions, union benefit funds, nonprofit health plans, and others. PAL coalition members join class action lawsuits, help get the word out about new lawsuits and settlements, and participate in advocacy campaigns to curtail runaway drug marketing and unethical drug pricing. If your organization is interested in joining the PAL coalition, learn more here.