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A Pill the Senate Needs to Swallow

From Afro

By Renee Foose and Hannah Gaskill

April 4, 2019

The Maryland House of Delegates took a step forward this legislative session to advocate for lower prescription drug costs by setting limits on how much state and local municipalities would pay for medications.

House Bill 768, introduced by Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-PG), is the first of its kind nationally, passed easily by delegates 98-40. “The rising cost of healthcare and health insurance is threatening the budgets of many Maryland families and businesses,” Pena-Melnyk said to the Capital Gazette.

The legislation, designed to create a new oversight board that would address the high cost of prescription drugs, is only halfway through the General Assembly–it has not yet passed the Senate.  The legislative session ends on April 8.

“The House of Delegates has passed critically important legislation that will help address the high cost of prescription drugs in Maryland. We are urging the Senate to support this bill without amendments, even if they have to work on it through the last day of the Session,” said Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative (MCHI) President Vincent DeMarco.

In a survey conducted by AARP of more than 1800 adults age 50 and older, over half who reported not filling a prescription in the past two years said cost was a factor. “Soaring drug costs are a major burden for state and local governments, as well as low- and middle-income families and this bill will help bring those costs down,” DeMarco told the AFRO.

Cost worries were greatest among those in poor health, as well as those with lower incomes and lower education, according to the survey. Maryland NAACP President Gerald Stansbury said “this legislation is key to help working families, no one should have to choose between putting food on the table and their health. We hope this passes the Senate this week.”

“When America catches a cold, the African American community gets pneumonia,” said Wandra Ashley-Williams, vice president for the Maryland Chapter of NAACP.  “If you can’t afford your drugs, how can you be healthy? We want this legislation to pass without amendments,” she said.

The legislation has received widespread support from county executives throughout Maryland and the Legislative Black Caucus.  “Local officials are key partners in this bipartisan effort to bring down drug costs and we are trying to educate the public about the need for state action,” DeMarco said.

If the bill passes this week, lawmakers would establish a five-member Prescription Drug Affordability Board to determine how best to make prescription drugs more affordable for Marylanders. The independent board would be tasked with examining the entire drug supply chain, including the role of drug manufacturers and insurance companies and establishing payment rates for expensive drugs that create hardships for Marylanders.

If HB 768 makes it through the General Assembly this session, prescription drug cost controls could be in effect as early as 2024.