Maine Legislature has three proposals to lower prescription drug prices

On April 17, 2019, the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services held the second day of public hearings on the Senate Democrats’ prescription drug reform package. The Committee heard testimony on three bills from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to allow for the importation of safe, affordable prescription drugs from Canada and to create a drug affordability board.

“Prescription drug prices are out-of-control in this state and in this country. The situation is pretty grim and the consequences are people’s lives,” said President Jackson. “It’s time for some basic oversight and accountability of those who, until now, have been driving up the cost of life-saving drugs to consumers just to line their own pockets.”

The first bill — LD 1387, “An Act To Increase Access to Safe and Affordable Prescription Drugs” — would allow individuals to purchase prescription drugs from a Canadian pharmacy. According to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 8 percent of Americans or 19 million adults have purchased prescription medication in another country.

The second bill — LD 1272, “An Act To Increase Access to Low-cost Prescription Drugs” — would set up a wholesale state importation program, similar to legislation that passed in Vermont last year.

Prescriptions are often 30 percent cheaper for the same drug in Canada than the U.S. A study by the National Academy for State Health Policy estimates this proposal has the potential to save Vermont 1 to 5 million dollars per year on prescription drugs. 

The final bill — LD 1499, An Act To Establish the Maine Prescription Drug Affordability Board — would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to provide oversight and set an upper payment limit for prescription drugs when necessary. Similar legislation passed through the State Legislature in Maryland earlier this month.

“Lowering the cost of prescription drugs for Maine people isn’t a one-and-done effort. It’s going to take a thoughtful and aggressive strategy to drive down costs and ensure Mainers get a fair shake,” said President Jackson. “This is a bold package, but I hope that by passing these bills, Maine can bring relief the thousands among us who have been affected by an industry that’s been out of control for far too long.”

On April 16, 2019, the Committee heard testimony on Sen. Heather Sanborn’s bill LD 1504, “An Act To Protect Consumers from Unfair Practices Related to Pharmacy Benefits Management” and Sen. Eloise Vitelli’s bill LD 1162, “An Act To Further Expand Drug Price Transparency.”

In the U.S., one in four Americans struggles to pay for their prescription medication while one in ten Americans does not take their medicine as prescribed to stay afloat. According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, about 200 bills have been filed in 42 state legislatures to address the cost of prescription drugs. Eighty-eight bills have to do with pharmacy benefit managers, 25 are related to wholesale importation and 13 are related to drug affordability review or rate setting.

All five bills face additional work sessions in the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee. The work session is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, April 24.