Slate Of Bills Tackle Prescription Drug Prices In Maine

Mar 13, 2019

At the State House today, Democratic lawmakers unveiled a package of bills that tackle the high price of prescription drugs.

The goal, they say, is to create a comprehensive strategy to increase access, affordability and accountability.

Credit Marco Verch / Flickr/Creative Commons

Living in Allagash — a relative stone’s throw from Canada — Senate President Troy Jackson says it’s particularly frustrating to hear from Mainers who struggle to afford prescription drugs.

“It’s hard to watch your family, friends or neighbors struggle to afford medication when that same medication is a fraction of the price across the border,” he says.

Jackson wants Mainers to be able to buy drugs from Canada, and he has introduced two bills that would allow it. One is similar to legislation he sponsored in 2013 that allowed individual consumers to import prescription medications. That law was later struck down in federal court.

Jackson’s other bill would allow the state to import wholesale drugs from Canada.

“Passing this legislation isn’t going to be easy,” he says.

Even if it does pass, it will still face hurdles. The bill to create a state importation program is modeled after legislation that Vermont passed last year. But it still needs federal approval, which some are doubtful will happen.

Plus, the Vermont Agency of Human Services recently released a report that concluded there would be substantial costs to operate a state import program, and it’s unclear whether any savings in drug prices would eclipse those costs.

Regardless of the challenges, Democratic state Sen. Heather Sanborn says lawmakers need to use every lever possible to reduce drug prices.

“Because nothing is going to magically solve this problem. It is too complicated, and it has been made intentionally so by the pharmacy benefit managers and by the pharmaceutical companies who benefit from our confusion,” she says.

Sanborn is sponsoring a bill that would require pharmacy benefit managers to disclose the rebates they receive from drug manufacturers and pass on the savings to consumers.

Democratic state Sen. Eloise Vitelli has also introduced a bill aimed at transparency. It would require manufacturers to disclose their costs to develop, produce and market certain drugs. It builds on a law passed last year that requires the Maine Health Data Organization to post the most expensive and commonly prescribed drugs in Maine.

That information was recently posted, and it surprised Robin Steinwand, who was invited to speak to reporters about the cost of her multiple sclerosis medication.

“I was appalled to find out that my drug, that’s been on the market for 25 years, is still among the 25 costliest drugs to all payers in the state of Maine,” she says.

One more proposal in the package of bills would empower the state to cap high drug prices through a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

Most of the bills are still being drafted, and it’s unclear whether they will garner broad Republican support. But Jackson is hopeful — prescription drug costs, he says, is not a partisan issue.

Originally published 3:49 p.m. March 12, 2019.