An all-volunteer board in Maryland will continue working throughout this year, even with an uncertain future for resources to assess prescription drug prices.

Van Mitchell, chair of the five-member Prescription Drug Affordability Board, said in an email Friday, June 26 that paperwork was completed for the state Department of General Services to seek office space in the Bowie area.

The board plans to apply for an executive director this month to the state Department of Budget and Management, said Mitchell, who added a website (pdab.maryland.gov) is scheduled to launch Wednesday, July 1.

“It has been a struggle,” Mitchell, former secretary of the state Department, said during a telephone town hall last week. “We have worked to coddle things together and try to get the board moving in the right direction.”

That’s because the board, the first in the nation created to recommend ways to make prescription drugs more affordable, received about $750,000 to begin its work this year.

During this year’s abrupt legislative session, state lawmakers approved a cap in fees of no more than $2 million through fiscal year 2025.

According to a budget summary, those fees would be assessed to manufacturers, pharmacy benefits managers, insurance carriers and wholesale distributors that sell or offer for sale prescription drug products to Maryland residents. The fee would be about $1,000 each to 1,400 companies and other entities.

An additional $250,000 would be provided through 2021 to 2023 as “special fund expenditures” to repay the Maryland Health Care Commission.

Even though lawmakers approved the bill, including a unanimous vote in the state Senate, Gov. Larry Hogan still vetoed the bill because “it would raise taxes and fees on Marylanders at a time when many are already out of work and financially struggling,” the Republican governor wrote in a letter May 7.

The overwhelmingly Democratic legislature may certainly override Hogan’s veto when lawmakers reconvene in January.

“It didn’t make any sense to anyone then [and] doesn’t make sense now,” said Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County), one of the lead sponsors on health care legislation. “The governor has been a bit of a roadblock.”

The board held its first meeting in January in Annapolis, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced virtual sessions that included one June 16.

Besides Mitchell, the other members are Eberechukwu Onukwugha, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore; Gerard F. Anderson, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore; George S. Malouf Jr., an ophthalmologist; and Joseph Levy, a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Three other people may be employed with the executive director in an office such as a general counsel, pharmacist and a person to handle administrative functions. A consultant may also be retained to help with financial matters on health and other matters.

The board plans to review new brand name prescription drugs at $30,000 or more per year, analyze existing brand-name medications that increase in price by $3,000 or more annually, and assess any prescription drugs that patients cannot afford and are challenges to the state’s health care system.

During a June 24 telephone town hall, one resident asked how people can help the board such as telling “war stories” about how much they pay for prescription drugs.

Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, one of the state’s biggest health care advocacy organizations, prompts residents to file their concerns at http://healthcareforall.com/hearmystory by asking: “Are you paying too much for prescription drugs?”

“It is one thing to focus on the pricing, but if people cannot pay, that’s important and we need to understand what the dimensions of that look like,” Onukwugha said. “That’s where the stories are immensely helpful.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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