Progressive activists urge Assembly to hold down prescription drug prices

Progressive Maryland activists and allies submitted testimony to a Maryland Senate committee this week urging passage of bills that aim to hold down rapidly rising prescription drug prices.

 /PM BlogSpace Report/ Progressive activists, including many from Progressive Maryland, are fighting for bills in the General Assembly that could put a lid on skyrocketing prescription drug prices.

This week activists testified before a Senate committee on behalf of “a pair of bills. One would require drug companies to give notice of and explain significant price hikes. The other would authorize the attorney general to sue makers of generic drugs who engage in price gouging,” The Sun reported.

One senate bill, SB415, was sponsored by Senate President Mike Miller and had a flock of cosponsors nearing a veto-proof majority if all actually vote for the bill (not a foregone conclusion). The cross-filed House bill, HB631, was likewise sponsored by Speaker Mike Busch with a similarly large group of cosponsors.

“..when [drug manufacturers] acquire and abuse monopoly powers, they hurt patients, they threaten our health care system and they damage our communities," The Sun quoted the Attorney General, Brian Frosh.

“Frosh was joined by Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and representatives from Maryland Health Care for All, churches, the NAACP and the state medical society,” the newspaper added.

Industry representatives attempted to dodge blame for the steeply rising prices, pointing to other factors including insurance companies. And they argued that the reporting requirements in the bills would raise their cost of doing business, hurting research.

 The cross-filed House bills, HB631 and 666, will be heard next week, Thursday, Feb. 23.

Progressive Maryland’s Jennifer Dwyer submitted this testimony to the Senate Finance Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on Senate Bills 415 and 437. Progressive Maryland is a grassroots, nonprofit organization of more than 100,000 members and supporters who live in nearly every legislative district in the state. In addition, there are 18 affiliated religious, community and labor organizations that stand behind our work. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families in Maryland. Please note our strong support for both of these bills.

SB 415 authorizes the Maryland Attorney General to take legal action to stop price gouging of “essential generic drugs” by pharmaceutical corporations. SB 437 requires pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporations to disclose the factual basis of prices for expensive prescription drugs - including generic, brand-name, and specialty drugs - in a timely fashion, including profits and the amounts spent on production, research, and marketing. It further requires manufacturers of expensive drugs to provide public notice before increasing the wholesale price of any name-brand or specialty drug by 10% or more annually, or by 15% over a two-year period so that consumers can plan for such price increases.

In recent years, extraordinary price increases of 500% or more on prescription drugs have become a normal occurrence, even for drugs that have been on the market for years or decades. Obviously, such excessive and sudden price increases don’t result from sudden increases in the cost of producing the drug, but from a drug company’s exploitation of market power—and to be clear, “market power” in this instance is what a Maryland resident is willing to pay to seek relief from illness or pain, or even stay alive.

SB 415 and SB 437 work in tandem to protect Marylanders from exploitation at the hands of pharmaceutical companies, and to give them fair warning about any changes in the costs of their prescription medications, empowering them to either budget in advance, or speak with their doctor about possible alternative medications and treatments.

It is absolutely shameful that any corporation would exploit people in this way, and Maryland residents deserve protection from such unethical practices. We urge a favorable report for both SB 415 and SB 437.