AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate overwhelmingly approved the Making Health Care Work for Maine package put forth by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and the Maine Senate Democrats on Tuesday. The suite of health care and prescription drug reform bills target outrageous health care spending, unsupported and extreme prescription drug price increases, and drug price transparency.
“The cost of lifesaving medication or treatment should never be or even feel like a death sentence. Yet, I know that this is the reality for too many Maine families and seniors, whether it’s a young woman in Limestone trying to afford breast cancer treatment or a family trying to get health care for their daughter with Crohn’s disease. But I know Big Pharma is going to do everything in their power to block these bills from becoming laws, and if we’re successful, they’ll turn to the courts,” said President Jackson.
The first bill — LD 120, “An Act To Lower Health Care Costs through the Establishment of the Office of Affordable Health Care” from President Jackson — would create the Office of Affordable Health Care, an independent, nonpartisan agency. 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 that have delivered savings for consumers and hospitals. The bill passed under the hammer.
“These companies and their corporate shareholders have more money than many of us can even begin to understand. They have high-priced lawyers all over this country, waiting in the wings to challenge any hint at progress in the courts. And they don’t just have one lobbyist, they’ve hired all the lobbyists — just look around,” said President Jackson. Maine people didn’t send us here to back down when things get tough or bow to pressure. They sent us here to stand up and fight back because they don’t have the money and power or the high-priced lawyers and lobbyists. All they have is their story and their elected officials.”
The second bill from President Jackson would 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. The amended bill requires the Maine Health Data Organization (MHDO) 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 vote in the Senate was 23-11.
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.
Sen. Eloise 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. The vote in the Senate was 33-1.
“Prices for prescription drugs have been increasing at an alarming rate for too long. People across the country and the state have had to make painful decisions about whether to pay for their full prescription, pay other bills, or cut back on how much medication they’re taking. No one should have to put their own health at risk because they can’t afford treatment. When the prices of life-saving and life-sustaining drugs go up, Mainers deserve to know why,” said Sen. Vitelli, D-Arrowsic. “This bill is just the latest step in years of work trying to increase transparency around the cost of prescription drugs. I’m grateful to the committee for their hard work and support of this bill.”
LD 673, “An Act To Create the Insulin Safety Net Program” from Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth 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. 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 program would be funded by insulin manufacturers by requiring them to register with the state. The vote in the Senate was 34-0
“The high cost of insulin has forced many people living with diabetes to make impossible economic choices. Unfortunately, some have died trying to stretch their prescriptions in order to make them last longer,” said Sen. Breen. “This bill provides peace of mind for folks with diabetes, whether or not they are insured, by providing them with a safeguard against running out of this life-saving drug.”
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. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn. 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. 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 vote in the Senate was 24-10.
“The pursuit of huge profits is getting in the way of providing quality, affordable care whether it’s health care coverage or prescription drug prices. As a result, hardworking, everyday Mainers are suffering,” said Sen. Claxton, a retired family physician. “Drug companies shouldn’t be able to take advantage of Mainers with chronic health conditions who rely on medication to lead normal, healthy lives. With this package, we can put an end to unsupported prescription drug price increases.”
A new report from AARP found that brand-name prescription drug prices increased over twice as fast as inflation in 2020. In the middle of a public health crisis, drug companies not only did well, but they raised the prices on older Americans.
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.
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.
All five bills now will go to the House for additional votes.