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County executives push for prescription drug board

From The Montgomery County Sentinel

By Neal Earley

January 10, 2019

The leaders of Maryland’s biggest jurisdictions are backing a state bill that would possibly lower drug prices in Maryland.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-21), would establish a state drug cost-review commission that would set the prices of drugs in the state.

Peña-Melnyk introduced the bill last session, but this time around the bill has the support of many of the state’s County Executives, including Democrats Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball as well as Republican Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.

“I join with leaders across the state to urge the General Assembly to act in 2019 to bring prescription drug-cost relief to people in Montgomery County and across the state,” Elrich said in a statement. “This is a matter of life and death for many Marylanders. At a time when we cannot count on the federal government to help, this is a great opportunity for Maryland to lead the way to better drug coverage.”

If the bill is passed, Maryland would be the first state to set up such a board, which places limits on how high drug manufactures can set prices for their drugs in the state. The board would be composed of five members with an appointee from the Governor, Attorney General, Speaker of the House of Delegates, President of the Maryland Senate and a fifth choice from both the House Speaker and Senate President.

The members of the board would then use their own criteria for setting the price of drugs in the state, but they would be based mostly on what Maryland residents could afford.

U.S. patent laws give drug companies the opportunity to control the price of the drugs for which they own a patent over. While patents for drugs vary, and many common drugs have cheaper generic brand versions, many key lifesaving drugs are under patents exclusively owned by one drug manufacturer. If passed, the cost-review commission could provide a check on the price of medications.

“I am honored to stand with such a dynamic group of leaders in support of this important initiative to make prescription drugs more affordable,” Alsobrooks said in a statement. “No one in Prince George’s County should ever be forced to choose between buying medicine or groceries. “I look forward to doing whatever I can to continue to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Prince George’s County and throughout all of Maryland.”

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, an advocacy group lobbying for the bill, said that there is a veto-proof majority of members of the General Assembly who support the bill and that it could pass without the governors’ approval. Last session, the bill did not make it out of committee; this time around DeMarco is more optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“We are thrilled to have the support of these forward-looking local leaders,” DeMarco said in a statement. “They will stand with us as we fight for the people of Maryland to bring down the costs of lifesaving drugs,” DeMarco said. “Too many Marylanders struggle to afford the drugs they need, and it’s time for the General Assembly to act. Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.”