An ambitious bill to limit annual increases in the cost of prescription drugs failed to gain traction in the legislature this year, though lawmakers adopted another plan by the Lamont administration to continue setting annual benchmarks for health care spending.
For the second consecutive year, a proposal to cap yearly increases in the cost of prescription drugs at a rate of 2% plus inflation did not get a vote in the House or Senate. Under the measure, pharmaceutical companies that exceeded the cap would have been penalized.
The bill would also have authorized the state Department of Consumer Protection to oversee the importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada. A last-minute suggested amendment to the plan would have stripped out the price cap portion but preserved the importation program. It did not get called for a vote, however.
“It did run into some headwinds,” Sen. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, said of the bill Wednesday, hours before the General Assembly adjourned. “It’s difficult to pass big prescription drug reforms, because a lot of people make a lot of money off of it. I would have loved to do it.”
Lawmakers did take action on another piece of legislation aimed at driving down the cost of health care. A bill that would direct the state’s Office of Health Strategy to set yearly health care cost growth benchmarks cleared the House and was later tied into the state budget, which passed both chambers.
The proposal codifies into law an executive order Gov. Ned Lamont issued in January 2020, just months before the pandemic started. It requires OHS to come up with annual benchmarks for the growing cost of health care, and it required providers, insurers and others in the industry to report their yearly price increases.
The order is a transparency measure designed to expose the hospitals, medical practices and insurance companies whose costs soar beyond the state-imposed targets. There is no penalty for those who exceed the benchmarks, but Lamont has said the annual reporting mandate would put public pressure on those agencies and companies to keep costs down.
The initiative would also track annual spending on primary care and set targets for that.
“Paying for health care is a black box. It’s really complicated, and a lot of people don’t know what they’re paying,” Lamont said Thursday. “The differentiation in terms of quality and cost is all over the map, the likes of which I don’t see in any other industry. … I’d like to think that employers are going to be paying special attention to this benchmarking, as they put together a platform that best takes care of their people in terms of value, not just price.”