It’s time to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board

maryland_state_house.jpgPrescription drugs cost too much. Everybody who needs medication for a chronic or recurring condition knows what a burden the increasing costs of prescription drugs are for them and those like them. And all prescription drug buyers -- that's all of us, sooner or later -- get sticker shock while Big Pharma keeps raising prices. Two Maryland legislators are proposing a new law that would bring these costs into line with what people can afford. Here, in a guest column for Maryland Reporter, they outline the bill’s purpose and effects.



 

Prescription drugs cost too much. Everybody who needs medication for a chronic or recurring condition knows what a burden the increasing costs of prescription drugs are for them and those like them. Those of us lucky enough to only need prescription drugs occasionally are nevertheless subject to sticker shock when they buy them – especially if they don’t have coverage assistance. And the pharmaceutical companies go blissfully on setting the prices where they please and focusing their efforts on stockholders and stock buy-backs rather than on their customers. Two Maryland legislators are proposing a new law that would bring these costs into line with what people can afford. Here, in a guest column for Maryland Reporter, they outline the bill’s purpose and effects.

/By Sen. Katherine Klausmeier and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk <> Maryland Reporter Across Maryland, people struggle to pay for the prescription drugs they need to lead healthy lives or even stay alive. Prices keep going up, while drug companies spend more on marketing and reap enormous profits. And, drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.

That’s why we are sponsoring legislation to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board that will have the authority to review and set fair and affordable maximum drug costs in the state. This board will serve as a watchdog for the public by ensuring that drug costs remain in reach for all Marylanders.

This is not a new concept. Already in Maryland state regulators review and set prices for critical products, including the cost of electricity, automobile insurance premiums and hospital rates.

This legislation would add prescription drugs to that list and would be a vital step in helping people across the state pay for their medications.

This careful legislative approach has come under fire in some quarters. A recent column by Barry Rascovar, “Drug Price Controls for Maryland?”, painted a skewed portrait of the legislation, suggesting that it is anti-business.

Bipartisan support

The truth is that this legislation enjoys bipartisan support. Among the supporters is Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, ahealthcare_not_wealthcare.jpg pro-business Republican who understands the pain that soaring drug costs are causing his constituents. He has been a strong public advocate for the legislation, advocating with his fellow Republicans for the measure. Seven Republican delegates are co-sponsors of the bill.

County Executive Glassman is joined by Maryland’s six other major county executives and Mayor Catherine Pugh, who all are having to deal with higher local budgets for prescription drugs for their employees and retirees.

Other critiques of the legislation suggest that Maryland should not act on its own to confront the drug-price issue. We say we cannot wait for action at the federal level. [moderator’s emphasis] Every day, people in Maryland must make painful choices – for example, pay for needed prescriptions or pay for groceries. We cannot punt on this issue and hope a deeply divided Congress will take meaningful action.

At a practical level, state action to rein in costs will not cause major problems for drug companies. Today, different drug reimbursement rates for any drug in different states is the norm within the health care market. Already, each drug on the market is reimbursed at hundreds of different payment rates across the country.

Normal operating procedure

Our bill adopts and strengthens that normal operating procedure of setting upper payment limits for drugs. A statewide reimbursement rate or upper payment limit just makes purchasers like pharmacies, stronger because they have the law behind them.

DEA_Raid_protest.jpgOur legislation has been reviewed by experts, and we are confident it is a legal and balanced approach that will benefit Marylanders while still being fair to drug companies. There is growing consensus that drug companies now simply charge as much as the market will bear; it’s time to push back on that on behalf of average people.

We will not stand by and watch helplessly as drug prices continue to rise. We need to be bold and focused to stand up against a global industry that has every patient around the world deeply worried.

Our choices as a state are limited but a Prescription Drug Affordability Board is one thing we can do. It’s time to focus on the real problem and bring down drug costs for everyone in Maryland.


Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, are the lead sponsors of the legislation to establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board, SB 759/HB 768. This article first appeared in MarylandReporter.com February 22.