Health care advocates push MD to address prescription drug prices
By Ovetta Wiggins
September 8, 2016
A health-care advocacy group says it will push Maryland lawmakers to address prescription drug prices during the coming legislative session, part of a national response to allegations of price-gouging and the rising cost of the emergency allergy treatment EpiPen.
Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative wants the Democratic-majority legislature to require prescription drug companies to disclose how they come up with their prices; notify the public of significant price hikes; and authorize the state attorney general to take legal action to prevent price-gouging.
“We think they are fair, reasonable proposals that can make prescription drugs more affordable. It’s good policy and good politics,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the advocacy group, which is hoping to finalize a legislative proposal and find sponsors this fall.
It is unclear whether there would be support in the General Assembly for such legislation. Any bill attempting to address how companies set prices would probably face fierce opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, which has lobbied heavily against such proposals in other states.
“Legislation like this doesn’t help patients to actually afford the medications they need,” said Caitlin Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the country’s leading drug companies.
She said her organization wants to work with advocates, lawmakers and other stakeholders to provide patients with “predictable and accessible” information about out-of-pocket costs.
Shareese DeLeaver Churchill, a spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said it is too early to respond to questions about the governor’s position on proposals dealing with prescription-drug prices.
“The governor would be happy to review any piece of legislation should it reach his desk,” she said.
Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative said Thursday that it plans to use a poll it commissioned to demonstrate strong public support for government intervention on drug prices.
The poll of 802 Maryland voters, taken by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks, found that 84 percent of Maryland voters favor prescription-drug-price transparency, which would require drug companies to explain how they set their prices, including how much they spend on production, research, advertising and profits.
The statewide poll also showed widespread support for a provision that would require drug companies to notify the public if they plan to increase prices by 10 percent or more and another that would enable the state attorney general to take legal action to prevent unfair price hikes.
But some of the questions in the poll used language that may have compromised the objectivity of the study. For example, the question about transparency says the proposal “is intended to keep prescription prices reasonable through more transparency and competition. . . . Would you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose this proposal?”
An August Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 86 percent of people supported a plan that would require “drug companies to release information to the public about how they set their drug prices.”
But the poll also found that 51 percent of people believed that competition in the marketplace would do a better job at keeping prescription drug costs down than regulation by the federal government, compared with 40 percent who thought federal government regulation would be more effective.
Maryland would be one of the first states to pass legislation requiring drug companies to disclose information about prices.
Vermont recently passed a drug-transparency bill. But a measure in California that would have required drug companies to justify the costs of certain drugs and provide notice when there is a 10 percent hike in costs died in committee.
This week, a Senate panel opened an investigation into the dramatic spike in the price of EpiPen, which has increased more than fivefold since 2007, the Associated Press reported.
DeMarco said that ideally the issue of transparency would be better handled at the federal level. But he said states “need to do everything they can do” until Congress acts.