President Jackson makes the case for taking bold action before the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee at the work session on LD 1117 and LD 675.
AUGUSTA – The Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee approved legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, to protect Mainers from price gouging and unsupported drug price increases in a vote of 4-4-3 on Thursday, with two people absent. Democrats on the committee approved two versions of each bill: one version supported by each bill’s sponsor; one significantly watered-down version of each bill.
The two bills are part of the Maine Senate Democrats’ Making Health Care Work for Maine package and have been aggressively targeted by pharmaceutical companies in recent weeks.
“Big Pharma doesn’t hire just one lobbyist, they hire all the lobbyists. They hire all the law firms. This is their go-to move. These large drug companies want us to be afraid so they can keep making money off the backs of Mainers. Maine people don’t have anywhere left to turn,” said President Jackson. “At the public hearing, we heard deeply personal stories about what happens when Maine people can’t afford their medication. People’s lives are at stake. If we can’t as a Legislature go forward and do something to help constituents, then I don’t know why we’re here.”
LD 1117, “An Act To Prevent Excessive Prices for Prescription Drugs” would protect Mainers from drug price gouging – the outrageous, overnight prescription drug price hikes that often grab headlines. It prohibits 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.
“If you see a wrong, you have to speak up and identify that problem. The problem that we are facing now is the problem of Big Pharma. It’s nothing new. I’m tired of seeing patients in my office and at our hospitals who are struggling to make ends meet just to get their medications,” said Rep. Richard Evans, D-Dover-Foxcroft, a practicing surgeon in Piscataquis County. “When is it going to be a good day to challenge the pharmaceutical industry? It’s never going to be easy. We do not know what the challenges will be or what the outcomes of any legal challenges will be. However, we should not be afraid to take that leap for our constituents.”
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 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.”
LD 675, “An Act To Protect Maine Consumers from Unsupported Price Increases on Prescription Medicines by Creating an Independent Review Process” from Sen. Claxton targets the smaller but unnecessary increases in price that 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 prevent pharmaceutical companies from raising the cost of their drugs when there is no evidence to support the increase and slow price creep that has huge impacts over time. Drug companies found in violation of the law would be fined by the State Treasurer based on information provided by the Prescription Drug Affordability Board based on analysis of data collected by the Maine Health Data Organization.
“Our constituents have been raked over the coals by the pharmaceutical industry. Seventy-nine percent of Americans believe that pharmaceutical prices are unreasonable. The public wants and needs us to act,” said Rep. Gina Melaragno, D-Auburn. “There is no doubt here that the pharmaceutical industry is a formidable opponent. They have very active, influential and effective lobbies. But it’s time we take bold action on behalf of our constituents, and it’s time to signal to the federal government that if they’re not going to act, we will.”
The need to address the high price of prescription drugs in the US has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of medication is 256 percent higher in the US 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.
All five of the Making Health Care Work for Maine bills face additional votes in the Senate and House in the coming weeks.