Jackson bill to lower cost of prescription drugs becomes law
AUGUSTA — A bill from Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, which will lower the cost of prescription medicine for Maine seniors and families by making affordable generic drugs more available, became law without the governor’s signature on Thursday.
The new law aims to lower drug costs by forcing brand-name drug producers to follow federal law by providing samples of their drugs to generic producers, so that generic alternatives may be sold when the drug’s patent expires.
“The skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs is leaving Mainers of all ages and across the entire state in a tough spot. It isn’t right that people have to choose between paying for medicine or meeting other basic needs. Now, Maine seniors and families will have access to more affordable prescription medicine,” said Sen. Jackson. “While I am glad to see this bill become law, I know we must continue to fight to lower health care costs for the people of Maine.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently requires name-brand pharmaceutical producers to make their drugs available to generic manufacturers. However, Big Pharma can and does withhold their product from generic companies, citing an FDA provision called “REMS,” or Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies, as the basis for their refusal. REMS is intended to ensure drug safety but is often used by name-brand drug producers as cover to shield their products from generic competition.
Earlier this year, the FDA released a list of offending drug manufacturers for skirting the law and blocking access to generic drugs by abusing this narrow provision. It was part of an effort to pressure these companies to comply with federal law.
The new law amends the Maine Pharmacy Act to require that a drug distributed in Maine be made available for sale to an FDA-approved generic drug manufacturer who is seeking to develop a cheaper alternative. The bill was also amended in the Senate to protect name-brand producers from liability in lawsuits involving generics created under the terms of the Act.
“When Mainers are forced to sacrifice their health and well-being by rationing their medication or going without because prescription drug costs are too high, we know we have a problem,” said Sen. Jackson. “Large pharmaceutical companies are already making enough money. It’s unconscionable that they are abusing a provision in federal law designed to protect the safety of consumers to grow their bottom-line and keep more affordable drugs out of the market.”
In Maine and across the country, the high cost of prescription medicine is putting immense financial pressure on families, workers and seniors. Roughly six out of ten Americans think that lower the cost of prescription drugs should be the government’s top priority.
Generics are 80-85 percent less costly than the equivalent brand-name drugs and are prescribed more than 90 percent of the time when they are available. Generics saved Maine $1.05 billion in 2016, including $156 million in savings for Medicaid.
The bill will take effect 90 days following the end of the special legislative session. The Legislature is set to return Monday, July 9 to consider vetoes and any outstanding legislative business.