The joint Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services heard several hours of testimony Wednesday on a packet of bills designed to give Mainers more options in obtaining affordable prescription drugs.
All three bills are sponsored by Democratic Maine Senate President Troy Jackson.
Two of the bills pave the way for more such drugs to be sourced from Canada at a lower cost, both by individuals and via a wholesale drug importation program. The third bill proposal sets up a prescription drug affordability board that would assess the cost of certain medications at the manufacturing level.
The bill drew significant support from individuals who testified that their medications for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes and cardio-pulmonary disease had become unaffordable, with some people foregoing medicine or taking on serious debt.
Speaking against the importation of drugs from Canada was Pfizer's Chief Security Officer John Clark. Clark told the Committee that organized crime and counterfeiters are already a problem in the drugs industry.
"I've seen a Canadian organization infusing counterfeit Viagra with fentanyl,” Clark said. “They didn't do it on purpose, but they were actually making counterfeit oxycodone and counterfeit Viagra and using the same pill press, so at the end of the day the Viagra was actually infused with Fentanyl."
But Committee Senate Chair Heather Sanborn, a Democrat from Portland, says people are already seeking out unverified drugs online or going without medications. She told Clark that his arguments would seem to support the greater oversight offered by the bill.
"What we need to do is to be able to use the powers of the state to ensure the safety of the medicine that we can get at a lower price from other sources than our current three monopoly wholesale suppliers,” Sanborn said.
Other concerns were raised over whether such a state law would run afoul of federal trade laws. Speaking in support were AARP Maine, Consumers for Affordable Health Care and the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
The matter now goes to a work session.
Updated 4:19 p.m. April 17, 2019