AUGUSTA – Gov. Janet Mills vetoed legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, that targeted prescription drug price gouging and unsupported price increases for lifesaving medication, on Tuesday. The two measures — LD 1117 and LD 675 — are part of the Making Health Care Work for Maine package, which was put forward by Maine Senate Democrats earlier this year. The two measures were opposed by pharmaceutical companies and industry lobbyists, who also engaged in an aggressive campaign to defeat these bills from the outset.
“This pattern of people in power caving the pharmaceutical industry and other wealthy special interests has gone on for far too long and it’s literally killing our families, friends and neighbors. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before and it cannot continue. The governor made these same arguments back when she was attorney general, not only was she wrong but the legislation made a difference,” said President Jackson. “Maine lawmakers have one more shot to do the right thing and override the governor’s veto. So my message to Mainers is this: if you are sick of a system that only works for the powerful and wealthy elite, not everyday people, then you need to contact your state lawmakers in both the House and the Senate. Tell them to do what the governor did not have the courage to do — stand up to Big Pharma. It’s time for elected officials to do what’s right for Mainers and put an end to sky-high prescription drug prices.”
LD 1117, “An Act To Prevent Excessive Prices for Prescription Drugs” from President Jackson would prohibit excessive price increases for generic and off-patent prescription drugs sold in Maine. These are the cases that often grab headlines. The amended bill requires the Maine Health Data Organization to notify the Attorney General of excessive price increases prohibited by the bill. The Attorney General would then investigate the allegations and penalize pharmaceutical companies found in violation of the law. The initial vote in the Senate was 23-11; the initial vote in the House was 80-60.
Between September and December of 2019, 53 generic drugs hit MHDO’s price increase threshold, impacting an estimated 24,518 Mainers who rely on these medications. The average price increase was 109.27 percent, and the total cost for these price increases was approximately $3.4 million. The price increases between January and December 2020 are expected to be much higher because most drug increases occur in January. It will also paint a better picture of what Mainers are experiencing thanks to a full year’s data.
“I first chose to run for office because I was tired of being powerless when it came to my patients, friends and family struggling to afford their medications,” said Sen. Claxton, who is a retired physician. “After working so hard on legislation this session to try to crack down on obscene medication costs that Mainers face on a daily basis, I’m very disappointed that we couldn’t get this bill over the finish line.”
LD 675, “An Act To Protect Maine Consumers from Unsupported Price Increases on Prescription Medicines by Creating an Independent Review Process” from Sen. Claxton would prohibit pharmaceutical companies from raising the cost of their drugs where there is no evidence to support the increase. Drug companies found in violation of the law would be fined by the State Treasurer based on information provided from the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. The overnight price hikes of prescription medication often grab headlines, but gradual unnecessary increases also put a strain on working families and seniors with fixed incomes. This is especially an issue for drugs that treat chronic or long-term illnesses. The vote in the Senate was 24-10; the vote in the House was 81-58.
The need to address the high price of prescription drugs in the U.S. has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of medication is 256 percent higher in the U.S. than in at least 23 other countries. In the middle of a public health crisis, pharmaceutical companies continued to raise drug prices. In fact, pharmaceutical companies raised the cost of 118 medications treating patients with chronic health conditions. Three out of four of those medications treat patients at higher risk for COVID-19. A recent survey found that 8 in 10 Americans want government action on the high price of prescription drugs.
The Making Health Care Work for Maine package is supported by AARP Maine, Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care, Maine #insulin4all Chapter for T1 International, Maine People’s Alliance, Mainers for Working Families, Maine Council on Aging, Maine Public Health Association, Community Health Options, Maine Equal Justice, and Mainers for Accountable Leadership.
The Legislature will take up the vetoes on Monday, July 19. To override the veto, the bill must have the support of two-thirds of the members present in both the Senate and the House.