ANNAPOLIS — The first stages to evaluate prescription drug prices in Maryland officially began Monday, as a new group held its first meeting in Annapolis.
The five-member Prescription Drug Affordability Board comprised of college professors, an ophthalmologist and the state’s former health secretary has the authority to asses and recommend on how to make drugs more affordable for Maryland residents. It’s also the nation’s first ever board created to analyze a cap on drug prices to make them affordable.
“This is a pretty diverse state. What we would want to be as a board is that we’re careful and aware that this touches everyone,” said Eberechukwu Onukwugha, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore. “I want to leverage that diversity to understand how this hits everyone in their pocket, or not.”
State lawmakers established the board last year as an independent body to provide suggestions on reducing the high cost of drugs.
Monday’s discussion at the Senate building mainly focused on a summary of its duties, staffing and future sessions.
Michael Lord, executive director of the state’s Ethics Commission, reviewed certain ethics laws the new board must follow.
For instance, a member must disclose any gifts that total $50 or more received from certain entities such as a lobbyist, or an agency that will do business with the board.
Another board member, Gerard F. Anderson, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, asked if travel expenses would count as gifts.
“Those would be gifts, but you would certainly want to talk with us,” Lord said. “Travel expenses by and large I would say would be problematic.”
The other three board members are Van Mitchell, a former state health secretary and board chair, George S. Malouf Jr., an ophthalmologist, and Joseph Levy, a professor at John Hopkins University.
Mitchell presented a few updates such as a possible official location in Prince George’s County.
The group to seeks to employ four people: an executive director, 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.
Although the board has a budget of more than $700,000 for this year, proposed legislation could be presented this month to ask state lawmakers to ensure a recurring budget gets approved so the board wouldn’t need to continuously pursue funding annually.
The board has until 2023 to officially present recommendations to the legislature.
Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative that helped craft and push the legislation last year, said officials and advocates from several states such as Illinois, Vermont and Hawaii. He said he plans on visiting Wisconsin in the near future.
“This law is going to work because the people chosen for the board are terrific,” he said. “We have full confidence that these five folks will make sure that this board does all it can to make prescription drugs more affordable for Marylanders.”
Residents who cannot attend any meetings in Annapolis can post comments online at www.healthcareforall.com.
But community sessions will be held throughout the state for residents to attend and share their concerns about the high cost of prescription drugs. One already was held Jan. 6 in Howard County.
Three more are scheduled for Feb. 18 in Baltimore County, April 14 in Harford County and April 30 at the Frederick Senior Center in Frederick County.
Others are planned in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. A joint session may take place for those in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, according to the board’s agenda.
“That’s why I like the combination of the research … as well as these listening sessions,” said Onukwugha, who is also executive director of the pharmaceutical research computing center at the school of pharmacy. “That gives the public an opportunity to step forward with their individual stories. We have to present a comfortable environment for them to speak.”