Legislators voted Thursday to advance a bill that seeks to lower the cost of prescription drugs in Connecticut, a frustration for seniors, the uninsured, and people on high-deductible health care plans.
Members of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee voted 12-8 to send the measure to the House floor, even as Republicans raised objections to it.
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 bill 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.
Republicans expressed hesitation Thursday, saying the plan could expose taxpayers to “significant risk.”
“Our yearly problems from a financial perspective are all because of prior governmental and legislative bodies telling us we can sustain these programs and benefits,” said Sen. Kevin C. Kelly, R-Shelton. “But at the end of the day we couldn’t absorb the risk, and that’s the problem Connecticut’s in today. That’s why we have historic tax increases and historic debts.”
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.
Rep. Sean Scanlon, a co-chair of the insurance committee, said the plan is meant to find “meaningful” ways to lower the cost of drugs for people struggling to afford them, and that there would be more time for bipartisan input as debate over the bill continues.
“In almost every interaction I have, specifically with seniors, they are crying out for help here, and I think that is something that we all can agree upon,” he said. “This is just our solution to trying to give them some semblance of relief when they go to the pharmacy.”
Lembo’s office and several nonprofits, including the AARP, have come out in support of the legislation, while others, such as the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, have opposed it.