Maine Senate approves comprehensive prescription drug price reform in initial votes
The legislation would make prescription medication more affordable and more accessible while holding pharmaceutical companies and corporate middlemen accountable.
AUGUSTA—The Maine Senate approved a suite of prescription drug reform bills from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, and Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, in an initial vote on Tuesday. The prescription drug reform package consists of four initiatives that would allow the wholesale importation of prescription medicine, create a prescription drug affordability board, increase drug price transparency and target pharmacy benefit managers.
“For years, I’ve watched family, friends and neighbors struggle to pay for their prescription medicine. It’s hard to see and I’m not someone who can sit by and let it get worse,” said President Jackson. “Today, Maine lawmakers stood up to fight for what’s right. This bold prescription drug reform package is about stepping up when Congress won’t. It’s about putting Mainers before profits.”
The first proposal from President Jackson would allow Maine to develop a wholesale prescription drug importation program. LD 1272, “An Act To Increase Access to Low-cost Prescription Drugs,” is modeled after legislation out of Vermont that was signed into law last year. Maine’s proposal also includes language directing the Department of Health and Human Services to consider whether the program may be developed with other states. Prescription medication is often significantly cheaper in Canada than the same exact drug in the U.S. Both countries also have comparable quality and safety standards.
President Jackson also has introduced legislation that would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. LD 1499, “An Act To Establish the Maine Prescription Drug Affordability Board,” would create a board to determine prescription drug spending targets for public entities based on a 10-year rolling average, accounting for inflation with spending reductions.
“Mainers are frustrated by the high cost of medication and rightly so. The cost of prescription drugs is out of control and the lack of transparency means we don’t know why. All we know is that drug companies are earning obscene profits while Maine health consumers can barely afford their medication as regulators and lawmakers are kept in the dark,” said Sen. Vitelli. “If Maine is going to address prescription drugs in a thoughtful way, we need to shine a light on the drug pricing process; we need information. This bill is about getting lawmakers the information necessary to lower costs and bring real relief to Maine people.”
The proposal from Sen. Vitelli focuses on drug price transparency. LD 1162, “An Act To Further Expand Drug Price Transparency” would allow the Maine Health Data Organization to collect essential data related to the pricing of drugs all along the supply chain from manufacturers to wholesalers, pharmacy benefit managers and insurance companies. Other bills in this package rely on this data to understand how the costs of development affect pricing for the consumer. This bill builds upon previous legislation introduced by Sen. Vitell, which became law last year.
“There is no silver bullet that will magically lower the cost of prescription drugs. All of our work on the Health Care Task Force and the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee has revealed that the rising cost of prescription drugs is complicated, which makes it difficult to reign in prices and hold cost drivers accountable,” said Sen. Sanborn. “In Maine, we have developed an aggressive package that attacks this issue from all angles. This has the potential to bring widespread relief to Maine families.”
The final legislation in this package targets pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), the “middlemen” who claim to work on behalf of consumers to drive down costs but have come under national scrutiny for pocketing savings. LD 1504, “An Act To Protect Consumers from Unfair Practices Related to Pharmacy Benefits Management” – sponsored by Sen. Sanborn – prohibits PBMs from retaining rebates paid by manufacturers and requires those rebates to be passed along to the consumer or the health plan. Rebates can drive up drug prices because they incentivize high wholesale prices and hide the cost of drugs from the consumer.
In the U.S., one in four Americans struggles to pay for their prescription medication while one in 10 Americans does not take their medicine as prescribed due to cost. Maine is not alone in exploring legislative efforts to lower the cost of medication. 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.
This comprehensive bill package will now go before the House for additional votes before returning to the Senate for enactment.