Senate Democrats’ prescription drug package receives bipartisan support in Committee
AUGUSTA—A suite of prescription drug reform bills from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, and Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, received bipartisan approval from the Legislature’s Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services on Tuesday. Together, the bills aim to make prescription medication more affordable and more accessible, while holding pharmaceutical companies and middlemen accountable.
“Mainers are no longer asking for lower prescription drug prices, they are demanding it. I’ve heard from hardworking people and families all across the state, who are struggling to afford the medication they need to survive,” said President Jackson. “Today’s committee vote marks a huge win for Maine health consumers over pharmaceutical lobbyists. However, we must keep up the momentum to pass these bills into law.”
The first bill from President Jackson – LD 1272, “An Act To Increase Access to Low-cost Prescription Drugs” – would allow Maine to create a wholesale prescription importation program similar to legislation passed in Vermont last year and to a Florida bill that is expected to be signed into law shortly. The amended version of the bill 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 cheaper in Canada than the same exact drug in the United States, which has similar quality and safety standards.
The second bill from President Jackson – LD 1499, “An Act To Establish the Maine Prescription Drug Affordability Board” – was amended to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board which would determine prescription drug spending targets for public entities based on a ten-year rolling average, accounting for inflation with spending reductions. Similar legislation passed through the State Legislature in Maryland earlier this month.
“Most Mainers are feeling the pressure from the rising cost of medication regardless of whether a drug is new to the market or has been on the market for ages. Part of the challenge is the lack of transparency in the drug pricing process, which allows drug companies to stand in the way of meaningful relief,” said Sen. Vitelli. “This bill is about bringing relief to Mainers by making the drug pricing process more transparent for lawmakers, health care consumers and medical professionals. It’s an important piece of the puzzle in lowering costs and bringing accountability to this industry.”
LD 1162, “An Act To Further Expand Drug Price Transparency” from Sen. Vitelli requires pharmaceutical companies to share information on costs related to drug production, marketing, advertising and consumer price. The bill 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.
“Lowering the cost of prescription drugs means holding all parties accountable for their role in this crisis,” said Sen. Sanborn. “I am proud of the work we did in the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee to pass a suite of bills that could bring real relief to Maine people in a strong bipartisan manner.”
Sen. Sanborn’s bill – LD 1504, “An Act To Protect Consumers from Unfair Practices Related to Pharmacy Benefits Management” – targets Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), the “middlemen” who are supposed to be working for consumers to drive down costs but have come under national scrutiny for pocketing the savings instead of passing them on to the customer. The amended legislation would require PBMs to offer drugs to consumers at the cash price of the drug if it’s lower than their copay, to pass manufacturer rebates along to consumers or to the insurance carrier use the rebate to lower insurance premiums, and would finally allow insurers to see the pricing spread PBMs are currently pocketing. The bill is based upon legislation that passed in Montana earlier this year.
In the U.S., one in four Americans struggles to pay for their prescription medication while one in ten Americans does not take their medicine as prescribed due to cost. Maine is not alone in exploring legislation 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. 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 final, bill LD 1387, which deals with individual importation, has been carried over for the next legislative session. The HCIFS Committee will recommend that the Legislature pass a Joint Resolution asking Congress and the Trump Administration to take actions laid out in federal law to increase access to safe and affordable foreign drugs.
The four committee–approved bills will now before the full Legislature for additional votes.