ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a measure to create a board that supporters say would protect those against the high cost of prescription drugs.
The 98-40 measure sponsored by Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park would make Maryland possibly the first state nationwide to create this five-member group known as the Prescription Drug Affordability Board.
“It is a start for us to look at the whole supply [and] the whole chain into deciding the threshold of what we will pay for in drugs,” Peña-Melnyk said after Wednesday’s vote. “We’re not saying this is what we are going to charge everywhere else. We are not controlling the price, but we’re saying what is affordable for Maryland?”
She said this legislation would aid about 300,000 people when it first goes into effect. One change from the previous bill limits the board to only have jurisdiction over local and state governments on how much they pay for expensive medications.
The measure would still assess the price of any new brand costing $30,000 or more per year, or wholesale acquisition increases of at least $3,000.
It’s received support from politicians statewide and one of the major topics, especially with a Democratically-controlled legislature.
“No one, especially our seniors, should ever be in the position of saying, ‘Let me cut my pill in half. It lasts longer,’” said Majority Leader Del. Kathleen Dumais of Montgomery County.
According to the bill, each member should have experience in health care economics and clinical medicine.
The independent body will be appointed by the governor, Senate president, House speaker and the attorney general. A chair will be chosen jointly by the Senate president and House speaker.
A 25-member “Stakeholder Council” would provide input to the board and include one representative from a statewide health care advocacy coalition, an organization for seniors and a labor union.
One of the main sticking points is the board setting “an upper payment limit” on the drug, which opponents say represents another form of “price controls.”
“We all want to do so something to help people. We all want to do something to bring costs down. This we’re not going to control,” said Jason Buckel (R-Anne Arundel County), who voted against the bill. “This law, unfortunately, is likely to not meet the objectives.”
The bill still must receive Senate approval. A version from Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) remains under review in the Finance Committee.
Nick McGee, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said in a statement the law unfairly targets and negatively affect government employees with current treatment plans.
“The bill overlooks the reality that insurers and other middlemen determine what patients pay out of pocket and what treatments they can get,” he said. “At the same time, it provides no real certainty that any individual patient will actually pay less for their medicine. We hope the Senate will take a more balanced approach by looking across all actors in the health care system to bring forward solutions that help patients afford their medicines and ensure they are able to benefit from medical innovation.”