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County executives endorse legislation to regulate prescription drug costs

WBAL TV
Video Clip
January 3, 2019
By: David Collins

The high cost of prescription drugs can be a hard pill to swallow, but relief might soon be on the way in Maryland.

According to health care advocates, prescription drug prices have increased since 2013 by an average of 10 percent a year.

Larry Zarzecki, CEO of Movement Disorder Education and Exercise, is living with Parkinson’s disease. He pays $3,800 a month for prescription medication to manage the symptoms.

“There are other medications out there that work much better that are approximately $6,000 for a 30-day supply,” Zarzecki said.

A large bipartisan group of county executives converged Thursday at the Maryland Association of Counties Winter Conference to support state legislation designed to regulate, stabilize and reduce the high cost of prescription medicine.

The proposal would establish a board with the authority to set rates, similar to what utility companies go through.

“We are beginning our budget process right now. Most counties are challenged with close to 20 percent increases for their employees,” said Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican. “Next to an upcoming recession, health care prescription costs are probably one of the most challenging issues a local government faces.”

“Well, not only is it good for the taxpayer, the budget and patient, it’s good for quality of life and it’s good for families,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, a Democrat.

The legislation would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board composed of five members who would be selected by the governor, attorney general and State House presiding officers.

According to the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, the board would review prescription medicines that meet certain criteria, including new brand names that enter the market at $30,000 or more a year, existing brand names that increase in price by $3,000 or more per year or during the course of treatment and generic medications that increase by $300 or more a year.

Sixty companies raised prices on nearly 300 medicines at the start of this new year, according to the price-tracking firm Rx Solutions. The increase is nearly three times the rate of inflation.

“Nobody will have to pay more than what the board sets for these drugs,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of Health Care for All. “For example, if utilities want to raise their rates, they are told by the Public Service Commission Marylanders are only going to pay a reasonable amount. Hospitals can only be paid what the Health Care Cost Review Board says they can be paid. This happens all the time.”

“We need some sort of oversight. Hospitals have it. Oil companies have it. Taxicab companies have it. For some reason, big pharmaceutical, they don’t,” Zarzecki said.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and members of the City Council endorse the proposal.

Despite strong support and the endorsement of county executives and 116 members of the General Assembly, the bill faces an uncertain future because of the fierce opposition from the pharmaceutical industry.