Senate approves drug cost reduction plan | News

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BOSTON — The state Senate has approved a health care cost-cutting plan that would cap insulin costs and require pharmaceutical companies to notify state regulators when a new or expensive drug comes on the scene. the market.

The proposal, which passed 39-1 votes last week, would impose new requirements on the pharmaceutical industry, require state licensing of pharmacy benefit managers, give state regulators the power to review certain drug costs and create a commission to study drug supply. chain and patient access.

Supporters said the measure was aimed at curbing soaring prescription drug costs that have put pressure on low-income residents and seniors.

“Frustration with health care costs is higher than it has ever been, especially with prescription drugs,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, D-Arlington, lead sponsor of the bill. “We need to do something about prescription drug prices.”

The proposal would subject drug benefit managers — who act as intermediaries between health plans, drug companies and providers — to state oversight.

Friedman said drug “brokers” play a “major role” in determining the price consumers pay for prescription drugs, but “are very, very loosely regulated.”

It would also create a trust fund to pay for medications for chronic conditions that disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.

Lawmakers passed several amendments, including one from Sen. Diana Dizoglio, D-Methuen, requiring state regulators to study the cost of epinephrine injection pens for children 18 and under. DiZoglio said prices for the life-saving drug have skyrocketed and parents and caregivers are struggling to afford the injectors.

“It’s critical that epinephrine be made available to children with life-threatening allergies,” DiZoglio said in his remarks. “No child should die because the caregiver cannot afford life-saving medicine.”

The proposal is backed by a coalition of public health groups, including Health Care For All, AARP Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Medical Society, who say it will help improve service and reduce costs for health care consumers.

The Massachusetts Prescription Drug Affordability Coalition, which includes those groups, said the proposal will provide “critical progress toward containing the rapidly rising prescription drug costs that are burdening Massachusetts families.”

“It takes a targeted approach to tackling excessive and rising prescription drug prices and would provide much-needed financial relief to consumers for certain chronic disease drugs, while maintaining vital resources needed for investments in innovation,” says group press release.

Overall, healthcare spending in Massachusetts rose to $64.1 billion in 2019, a 4.3% increase that exceeded the state’s cost control target, according to latest data from the Center for Health Care Information and Analysis. This was the second consecutive year of above-benchmark health spending growth.

The report says gross prescription drug spending totaled $10.7 billion in 2019, up 7.2% from the previous year. But taking into account prescription drug discounts, pharmacy spending rose 3% from 2018, to $8.3 billion. That’s just below the state’s 3.15 benchmark for the year.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group, criticized the bill and suggested it would not reduce drug costs for consumers.

“We are disappointed with the Senate’s approach to targeting pharmaceutical companies, especially at a time when the industry is relentlessly dedicated to finding treatments and vaccines for COVID-19,” the door-keeper said. PhMRA spokesperson Jasmine Gossett in a statement. We agree that too many patients continue to face higher out-of-pocket expenses, but this bill will not bring immediate relief to patients at the pharmacy counter.

The group noted the HPC report showing that pharmacy spending, net of rebates, was one of the only major categories under the state’s cost growth benchmarks in 2019.

But lawmakers say the cost of prescription drugs is skyrocketing, as seniors and others struggle to afford the costs of Medicare and basic health plans.

The cost of life-saving insulin drugs is a major concern, they said, which has risen dramatically in recent years. Lawmakers said they listened to hours of testimony from diabetics who had to skimp on the drug because of the cost.

“These costs can run into the thousands of dollars for many people who have high-deductible plans or are underinsured,” Friedman said. “Insulin is as essential to a diabetic’s life as water is to all of us, and yet we are forcing these patients to pay extremely high sums to access a drug they simply cannot afford. to pass.”

The measure still needs to be approved by the House of Representatives and survive Governor Charlie Baker’s veto pen to become law.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]

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