Bill seeks to reduce the cost of prescription drugs
Lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs in Connecticut, a pain point for many residents, especially the uninsured and people on high-deductible health plans.
Under the proposal, anyone would be able to obtain a drug discount card through a program run by Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s office. The cards would be part of the state’s new pharmacy contract, which is being negotiated now, and would provide an average savings of 30 percent on name brand prescription drugs.
The measure also would allow private employers to contract with the state’s pharmacy benefits manager to reduce drug costs, an opportunity that has already been extended to municipalities. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday (today) at the Legislative Office Building.
“Pharmacy benefit managers and drug corporations have had the upper hand on patients for decades – sometimes dictating the highest possible prices that provide upwards of 7,000 percent profits on certain drugs, knowing full well that consumers are willing to pay any price for lifesaving or life-changing treatment,” said Lembo, a proponent of the bill and a former state health care advocate.
The legislation also would require brand-name drug companies that enter into special settlements with generic drug companies to offer 50 percent discounts on prescription medication. The so-called “pay for delay” settlements involve payments by brand-name companies to generic ones that delay the generic drugs’ entry into the market. The brand-name corporations would be penalized by having to offer the reduced price.
In addition, lawmakers want to study the feasibility of importing drugs from Canada, where prescription medication is far less costly.
The bill was raised by Rep. Sean Scalon and Sen. Matthew Lesser, who have listened to a flood of concerns about the high price of prescription drugs.
“People are outraged,” Lesser said. “I heard about health care costs in general, but prescription drugs in particular more than any other issue on the campaign trail.”
Complaints have also been shared with leaders of state and nonprofit agencies.
“People are literally making decisions about their prescription purchases based on the fact that they cannot put food on the table if they buy the drugs, so they’re not buying them,” said Nora Duncan, state director of AARP Connecticut. “There are real stories out there about people saying, ‘I just can’t afford this drug so I’m not on it anymore and it’s probably going to kill me.’”
Ross Kristal, chief resident for the Yale Primary Care Residency Program, said in written testimony that he’s seen firsthand the consequences of “unfair” prescription drug pricing.
“I cared for a truck driver who was admitted to the hospital for a COPD exacerbation. Her breathing was so bad that at one point she had to be treated in the intensive care unit,” he wrote. “Understandably, she was nervous about eventually leaving the hospital, but we had a good discharge plan in place, including the use of different inhaler medications.
“Days later she was admitted again to the hospital for the same reason because she could not afford to purchase the inhalers.”
Other groups are opposing the measure.
“The creation of a government-run prescription drug program would unnecessarily disrupt the current prescription drug marketplace and result in further costs,” Michelle Rakebrand, assistant counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said in written testimony.
“Pharmacy benefit managers aggregate demand to gain leverage in the market, something that cannot feasibly be done by the state of Connecticut on the same scale.”
The association also noted that the comptroller’s office has the authority to charge administrative fees on the drugs. “Even if the fee is only nominal,” Rakebrand said, “it would be just one of many fees, assessments and taxes that are already imposed on employers by the state.”
Officials with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America outlined their fears in a letter, saying the bill raises legal and safety concerns, and may have the unintended consequence of delaying generic drugs from entering the market.
The legislation follows an earlier effort by the General Assembly to shed light on the murky prescription drug industry. A bill requiring drug companies to justify price increases of more than 20 percent in a year, or 50 percent over three years, was unanimously passed by the House and signed into law last May.
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