President Jackson, Senate Dems make the case for health care reform package

AUGUSTA – A suite of bills put forward by Maine Senate Democrats to ensure more Mainers have access to lifesaving health care and medication received a public hearing before the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services on Tuesday. The Making Health Care Work for Maine proposal targets outrageous health care spending, unsupported and extreme prescription drug price increases, and drug price transparency. 


Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, and Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, unveiled the health care package alongside patients, seniors and health care advocates at a press conference last month.


The cost of lifesaving medication or treatment should never be or even feel like a death sentence. Yet, I know that it’s the reality for too many Maine families and seniors because I hear heartbreaking stories from the people in my community almost every day,” said President Jackson. “Maine people deserve better than to be held hostage by pharmaceutical companies. With the Making Health Care Work for Maine package, more Maine families will get the care and lifesaving medication they need without going bankrupt.”


The first bill from President Jackson – LD 120, “An Act To Lower Health Care Costs through the Establishment of the Office of Affordable Health Care” – would create an independent, nonpartisan Office of Affordable Health Care within the Maine Legislature. The Office of Affordable Health Care would work to rein in health care spending and improve access to quality care by analyzing available Maine health data and making evidence-based policy recommendations to state lawmakers. At least nine other states have similar offices within state government that have delivered savings for consumers and hospitals.


President Jackson’s second bill in the Making Health Care Work for Maine package aims to protect Mainers from drug price gouging – the outrageous, overnight prescription drug price hikes that often grab headlines. LD 1117, “An Act To Prevent Excessive Prices for Prescription Drugs” would prohibit excessive price increases for generic and off-patent prescription drugs sold in Maine. It would allow the Attorney General to investigate allegations of drug price gouging and penalize pharmaceutical companies found in violation of the law. An excessive price increase is anything more than a 15 percent annual increase in the wholesale acquisition cost or a 40 percent increase in the wholesale acquisition cost over the past three years, and that would increase the cost of the drug by more than $30 for a 30-day supply.


When your doctor prescribes you a medication to help you get better or stay healthy, the last thing you should have to worry about is whether you can afford it. But for too many people the cost of prescription drugs is a major strain on their household budgets,” said Sen. Vitelli. “To truly deliver prescription drug relief for Maine people, we need to tackle this issue from all angles, and we need to keep pushing for transparency, accountability and affordability.


Sen. Vitelli’s bill would strengthen drug price transparency laws, allowing lawmakers to close loopholes, rein in costs and identify bad actors. LD 686, “An Act To Increase Prescription Drug Pricing Transparency” allows the Maine Health Data Organization to make the information collected from drug manufacturers accessible to the public. 


“Too many Maine families and individuals with Type 1 diabetes were already living financially on the edge due to the outrageous cost of insulin in this country. The COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse,” said Sen. Breen. “Putting an end to the insulin racket won’t happen overnight, but we can take action to save lives now. This bill is about making sure that Mainers living with diabetes have a lifeline while state and federal officials work to bring meaningful reform to the pharmaceutical industry.”


LD 673, “An Act To Create the Insulin Safety Net Program” from Sen. Breen would create an emergency insulin program modeled after a new Minnesota law. The program would make an emergency 30-day supply of insulin available to eligible Mainers at any pharmacy for less than $35. Sen. Breen’s bill is specifically designed to save lives while state and federal officials work to bring meaningful reform to the pharmaceutical industry. Since its discovery more than 100 years ago, insulin’s price has skyrocketed, with more Americans skipping doses and in some cases dying due to cost. More than 400 Minnesotans have utilized the new program since it began last summer.


“The sudden price hikes tend to get a lot of attention. However, as a retired family physician, I know that many Mainers, especially older Mainers, are struggling with significant but unnecessary price hikes to medications they have to take regularly,” said Sen. Claxton, a retired family physician. “With this health care package, we can rein in prescription drug prices by putting an end to price gouging and unsupported price increases.”


The final bill in this package is LD 675, “An Act To Protect Maine Consumers from Unsupported Price Increases on Prescription Medicines by Creating an Independent Review Process” from Sen. Claxton. 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. Sen. Claxton’s bill would prohibit pharmaceutical companies from raising the cost of their drugs where there is no evidence to support the increase.


All five bills will be the subject of additional work sessions in the coming weeks.


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