April 4, 2019 Press Release

Press Release

Attorney General Ellison names members of task force on lowering pharmaceutical drug prices

15 members chosen through public process include medical practitioners, labor and industry representatives, legislators, and people affected by high cost of pharmaceutical drugs

Task force to meet on April 23, produce report and action plan by start of 2020 legislative session

April 3, 2019 (Saint Paul) Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today announced the 15 members of his Advisory Task Force on Lowering Pharmaceutical Drug Prices. They include medical practitioners, representatives of labor and industry, four legislators from each house and each party, and the executive director of the Board of Pharmacy.

Attorney General Ellison has charged the task force with gathering in the best thinking in order to understand why the prices of prescription drugs are so high — in some cases, unconscionably high — and come up with multi-pronged strategies to lower prices. These will include legislative, legal, regulatory, and community-based strategies.

“Exorbitant drug prices are not only breaking family budgets, they are ending lives,” Attorney General Ellison said. “Minnesotans must have meaningful answers to drug-price affordability. I want to thank conscientious citizens for stepping forward to serve on the task force.

“I also want to thank everyone who applied to serve. We had more than 100 applicants to choose from for just 15 spots, and all would make outstanding task force members. We will call on you as well,” Attorney General Ellison concluded.

The task force will hold its first monthly meeting on April 23, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Room 316 of the State Capitol. Attorney General Ellison and members of the task force will hold a media availability immediately beforehand. The task force will produce a report within nine months, before the start of the 2020 legislative session, and will continue its work for up to two years.

The members of the task force were chosen from among 112 people who applied through the Secretary of State’s Open Appointments process. Nicole Smith-Holt will serve as a co-chair of the task force. The members of the task force are:

Elo Alston has been a type 1 diabetic for over 30 years. He has experienced first-hand the challenges diabetic patients without medical insurance face when they have to pay out of pocket for their life-saving drugs. Mr. Alston brings with him a strong desire to find sustainable solutions to current pharmaceutical drug-pricing models.

Jessica Braun is a family nurse practitioner with over 10 years of experience in a variety of health care settings including college health, acute care, chronic pain management, and family practice. Prior to her current role, Jessica worked for nearly 12 years as a home care nurse in Le Sueur County. Jessica brings with her the unique understanding of how the increase in drug prices has affected college students, seniors, and Minnesotans living in rural parts of the state.

Nazie Eftekhari is the CEO and principal architect of HealthEZ, a Minneapolis-based company that provides services designed to simplify health-plan administration for employers, consumers, and health care providers, and insurers. She is also the founder of The Araz Group, one of the first Preferred Provider Organizations (PPO) in the country. Nazie will bring with her extensive knowledge of the health care industry.

Rep. Rod Hamilton (R) represents House District 22B, which includes all or parts of Cottonwood, Jackson, Nobles, and Redwood counties. Rep. Hamilton has been a multiple sclerosis patient since 1994; he understands firsthand the need for transparency into how pharmaceutical drugs are priced. He is the co-author of bills to make pharmaceutical-drug pricing more transparent.

Phu Huynh is a pharmacy manager at NorthPoint Medical Clinic, where he has managed all operational aspects of the independent clinic pharmacy for more than eight years. Phu brings with him first-hand experience of working with underserved patient populations as they struggle to afford their prescription drugs.

Sen. Scott Jensen (R) represents Senate District 47, which includes Chaska, Chanhassen, Waconia, and other Carver County communities. Sen. Jensen is also a family physician. He is the lead author of SF 353, the Prescription Drug Affordability Act.

Christy Kuehn of Lakeland has struggled to afford the cost, and even to understand the cost, of the insulin on which her husband is dependent. The exact same medication that costs her more than $2,200 a month to treat her husband’s Type 1 diabetes is available in Canada for only $500. Her husband is currently rationing a six-month supply of insulin over the course of a year.

Shirlynn LaChapelle has been a nurse for more than 30 years. She currently works as a nurse consultant providing public health education, disease screening, and wellness advising to the community. From 2010–18, Shirlynn served as the president of the Minnesota Black Nurses Association, where she organized a number of outreach activities around the metro area with Health Fair 11 and UCare to improve health outcomes in underserved communities. Shirlynn brings with her a unique insight into how the increase in drug prices affects underserved communities.

Rep. John Lesch (DFL) represents House District 66B, which includes portions of the city of Saint Paul. He is chair of the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division and the lead author of HF 4, a bill to prohibit price gouging of prescription drugs.

Sen. Matt Little (DFL) represents Senate District 58, which includes southern Dakota County and portions of Goodhue County and the city of Northfield. Sen. Little has introduced a number of bills aimed at increasing transparency and curbing drug prices.

Rose Roach has served as the executive director of Minnesota Nurses Association since October 2014. Before joining MNA, Rose spent 25 years advocating for high-quality healthcare in Minnesota and California. Rose brings with her a wealth of knowledge about how the increase in pharmaceutical drug prices impact nurses and the patients they care for.

Stephen Schondelmeyer is a nationally recognized expert in pharmaceuticals. He is a professor of Pharmaceutical Economics and head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, and is the Director of the PRIME Institute, which focuses on pharmaceutical research related to management and economics. Dr. Schondelmeyer will bring with him substantial knowledge and understanding of the intersections of pharmaceutical pricing, public policy, and research.

Nicole Smith-Holt lost her 26-year-old son, Alec Smith, as a result of skyrocketing insulin prices. Since the loss of her son, Nicole has become a national leader in the fight to reduce insulin prices: her advocacy has resulted in an increased public awareness of the need for affordable insulin. She was recently named as a Charity Ambassador by T1International, a non-profit run by people with and impacted by type 1 diabetes for people with type 1 diabetes. Nicole brings with her a true passion, drive and firsthand experiences of how drug prices impact the lives of every day Minnesotans. Nicole will serve as a co-chair of the task force.

Leonard Snellman has been a general pediatrician since 1985. He has been on the HealthPartners Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee since 1986, and is currently the chair of the P&T Committee for Children’s MN, where he reviews new and existing medications and the role they play in the therapeutic regimen of patients. Dr. Snellman was the assistant chair of the Department of Pediatrics at HealthPartners from 1996 through 2010. Dr. Snellman brings with him strong experience in the medical evaluation of pharmaceutical drugs.

Cody Wiberg is the executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy. Prior to joining the board he was the Pharmacy Program Manager for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Cody is also a Clinical Assistant Professor for the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy and Affiliate Clinical Instructor and Course Director for the University of Florida Graduate School. Dr. Wiberg was named to Minnesota Physician’s quadrennial list of the state’s 100 Most Influential Health Care Leaders in 2008, 2012, and 2016.