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Md. county executives back drug affordability measure

The Daily Record
January 3, 2019
By: Tim Curtis

All of Maryland’s county executives Thursday endorsed a proposal to rein in prescription drug prices by creating a drug affordability board in Maryland.

The leaders of Maryland’s seven largest counties backed the proposal as reducing prescription drug prices becomes a primary approach to curtailing rising health care costs, an issue at the top of the priority list for many of their constituents.

“I”m here because I think this is the most important issue for the residents of my county. The cost of these drugs is pricing people out,” Steuart Pittman, Anne Arundel County executive, said. “We know that these drugs can be sold for a lot less money. It’s done in other countries. Maryland has always been a leader, and we can lead on this.”

Pittman, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday at a gathering of the Maryland Association of Counties that they support the creation of a drug affordability board to help bring down drug costs. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has also endorsed the proposal.

The legislation, sponsored by Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, and Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. This board would review drugs priced at $30,000 a year or higher. It could then set its own rates and review the supply chain for these drugs.

Supporters said the board would serve a function similar to those state boards and commissioners responsible for setting hospital rates and insurance rates.

Nearly all of the county executives said high prescription drug costs, and similarly rising health care costs, were at the top of the lists for constituent concerns.

But they also said rising drug costs represent a governance issue as they cover county employees.

“I remind folks that even on the local government level, really the escalating costs each year, for employees throughout local government, really has become unsustainable,” said Glassman, the only Republican county executive. “Each year we have to choose between whether we are going to give our employees a raise or if, in fact, we are going to cover some of their prescription costs. You can imagine for a local government, a local family, that these costs are just becoming unmanageable for any working family, any working government.”

Similar legislation was introduced by Peña-Melnyk last year. It overwhelmingly passed the House of Delegates but did not come up for a vote on the Senate floor after it passed the Senate Finance committee on the last day of the session.

The legislation will likely face heavy opposition from pharmaceutical companies this year. Even if the bill passes, it would probably face a legal challenge.

The last law passed by the state legislature to take aim at prescription drug costs would have taken a look at the price of generic drugs in Maryland.

That law was challenged by the generic drug industry and has been ruled unconstitutional by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has asked the Supreme Court to revive the law.