Jackson, Maine Senate Democrats roll out ambitious prescription drug reform proposal

Posted: March 14, 2019 | Senator Heather Sanborn, Senator Jackson, Senator Vitelli

Legislation would make prescription drugs more affordable, more accessible and hold both drugmakers and middlemen accountable

Senate President Troy Jackson speaks about Democrats’ prescription drug reform proposal.

AUGUSTA—On Tuesday, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, and Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, stood alongside fellow lawmakers, Maine seniors and health care advocates to roll out ambitious prescription drug reform package.

“When it comes to health care, Maine needs to be fighting for patients over profits. This is especially true when it comes to prescription drugs. Nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table, heating their home or taking their medicine,” said President Jackson. “It’s high time we took action to lower the cost of prescription drugs in this country. And I don’t mean making minor progress around the margins. We need to tackle the prescription drug crisis head-on.”

The proposal includes a suite of five drug reform bills – sponsored by President Jackson, Sen. Sanborn and Sen. Vitelli – focused on affordability, accessibility and accountability.

President Jackson has filed two bills that would explore importing drugs from Canada, which are often cheaper than in the U.S. One bill would create a wholesale state importation program, while the second bill would create an individual importation program. President Jackson also has filed legislation to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

Senator Heather Sanborn speaks about Democrats’ prescription drug reform plan.

“Our prescription drug payment and pricing systems are broken,” said Sen. Sanborn, who also serves as Chair of the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee. “It’s time for us this legislature session, using every lever that we have as a state, to ensure that we are increasing access, affordability and accountability for those who make and sell our drugs.”

The fourth bill, sponsored by Sen. Sanborn, is a recommendation from the Legislature’s Health Care Task Force, which convened during the 128th Legislative session. This bill would require transparency in drug pricing between manufacturer, pharmacy benefits manager and consumer.

The final bill LD 1162, “An Act To Further Expand Drug Price Transparency” from Sen. Vitelli is the only bill that has been printed and would require more disclosure of drug production, research and development costs, marketing and advertising costs and actual costs paid upon purchase.

“While I’m proud of the work we did last year to increase drug price transparency, I know we still have work left to do to provide relief to Mainers,” said Sen. Vitelli. “When individuals can no longer afford to meet their basic needs due to the exorbitant cost of medication, we know we have a problem. With my bill this year, we can build on last year’s success and hold pharmaceutical companies accountable.”

Lawmakers were joined by representatives from Maine AARP, Consumers for Affordable Health Care and prescription drug consumers, who shared their stories.

“Thousands of Mainers take prescription drugs. For many, prescription drugs represent the only defense they have against crippling pain or serious conditions like heart disease and cancer,” said Lori Parham, Executive Director of Maine AARP. “Consider the effect of these skyrocketing price increases on older Mainers who may already be struggling to make ends meet on a limited income. Mainers are literally choosing between being able to eat and being able to take the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. This alarming trend must stop.”

In the U.S., one in four Americans struggle to pay for their prescription medication while one in ten Americans do not take their medicine as prescribed to stay afloat.

According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, about 200 bills have been filed in 42 state legislatures to address the cost of prescription drugs. Eighty-eight bills have to do with pharmacy benefit managers, 25 are related to wholesale importation and 13 are related to drug affordability review or rate setting.

The proposals submitted by Senate Democrats will receive public hearings over the course of the next few months.