AUGUSTA – A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to create a new independent, nonpartisan agency to rein in health care spending and improve access to quality care, became law without the governor’s signature on Thursday. The legislation was part of the Making Health Care Work for Maine package put forward by the Maine Senate Democrats to lower health care costs, clamp down on prescription drugs price increases and improve access to life-saving medication.
“As the cost of health care continues to spiral out-of-control, Maine families are left with an impossible situation, trying to figure out how they can afford to take their kids to the doctor and get the care they need for themselves. It’s heartbreaking. So I have little sympathy for the health insurance executives who are complaining to their shareholders that corporate profits have dipped slightly because people are going to the doctor,” said President Jackson. “With the Office of Affordable Health Care, Maine people will have someone spending every day looking at what’s driving health care costs in Maine and making recommendations for how can deliver meaningful relief in this state. I’m so grateful to all the Mainers who bravely came before the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance, and Financial Services Committee to share their painful stories and demand action.”
LD 120, “An Act To Lower Health Care Costs through the Establishment of the Office of Affordable Health Care” creates the Office of Affordable Health Care. The office would analyze all available Maine health data and make evidence-based policy recommendations to state lawmakers. At least nine other states have similar offices that have delivered savings for consumers and hospitals.
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 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 that are used to treat 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 governor vetoed two of the Making Health Care Work for Maine proposals last month. In the veto letters, she had indicated her support for LD 120 but it ultimately became law without her signature. The Legislature will decide whether or not to override the two vetoes on Monday, July 19.
- 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.
- 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, 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 remaining two Making Health Care Work for Maine bills were signed into law by the governor in June.
- LD 673, “An Act To Create the Insulin Safety Net Program” from Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, creates 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.
- LD 686, “An Act To Increase Prescription Drug Pricing Transparency” from Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, allows the Maine Health Data Organization to make the information collected from drug manufacturers accessible to the public. This builds on previous efforts to strengthen drug price transparency laws, allowing lawmakers to close loopholes, rein in costs and identify bad actors.
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.
LD 120 will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns sine die.