ANNAPOLIS — Last month, state and county lawmakers, health officials and advocates and faith leaders showed their support for the creation of a prescription drug affordability board in Maryland, which could be one of the first of its kind in the nation.
On Wednesday, they returned to the General Assembly to espouse its importance to every resident in the state.
“We regulate utilities, we regulate hospitals and that’s worked out well,” Anne Arundel County Executive Stuart Pittman said while testifying before the Senate’s Finance Committee. “This won’t solve all the problems having this board, but I think it will force the companies to justify their prices and it’ll get the conversation going.”
The review of the legislation sponsored by Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) lasted more than two hours. According to the bill, one of the board’s responsibilities would be to “review the cost of a prescription drug product … [and] determine whether use of the prescription drug product … has led or will lead to affordability challenges for the state health care system or high out-of-pocket costs for patients.”
The board would consist of members with expertise in health care economics, or clinical medicine, and operate as an independent unit to make a drug company validate the price for any new brand costing $30,000 or more per year, or wholesale acquisition increases of at least $3,000.
One of the main sticking points is that the board could set “an upper payment limit” on the drug.
Not everyone agrees the bill would help everyone receive quality health care such as “price controls” on companies, which they deem as unconstitutional.
Brad Stewart, CEO of Immunology Partners, a medical supply company also known as Cylex in Howard County, called the legislation “bureaucratic and convoluted.”
“This bill encourages limited or no access to life-saving medications, drug shortages … and incentives the introduction of counterfeit drugs into Maryland’s drug supply chain,” said Stewart, who is also vice chairman of the Maryland Technology Council based in Gaithersburg. “This bill does not solve the problems the citizens of Maryland face today in affording new medications. Instead, it will actively and rapidly push health care in Maryland to become the worst in the United States.”
Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-District 24) of Landover had a few strong words for Stewart and others opposed to the bill.
“We do not intend to leave here without coming up with a bill that is going to take care of the needs of our little constituents who are not as well off as those of you sitting at this table,” she said. “You all can afford to pay your health insurance. We have those little constituents who depend on Medicare [and] Medicaid. They’re the ones we’re concerned about.”
Leslie Wood, a representative with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), read off a few figures from last year outlining some of the distribution of health care funding: $150 billion in rebates and discounts to payers, providers and government programs, $70 billion on research and development and up to $5 billion in advertising.
“We absolutely acknowledge there is an unfair affordability issue for American patients,” she said. “That’s why we are very supportive of what’s happening on the federal level to look at the entire supply chain.”
Similar testimony was heard across the street in the House on legislation sponsored by Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park.
Before the hourslong testimonies, the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative launched radio and social media ads to encourage state lawmakers to ensure prescription drug prices are affordable. Various radio spots are running throughout the state based on the theme, “Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.”
For instance, one features Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro, who also chairs the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.
“Millions of Marylanders can’t afford the medicines they need, and even healthy families are hurt by drug prices because they drive up the cost of health insurance,” Alsobrooks said in the ad. “Right now, the state legislature can do something about it.”