Jo Saint-George, an attorney and member of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, speaks at a Feb. 14 press conference in support of legislation to create a prescription drug affordability board in the state. Vincent DeMarco (left), president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, leads a group of health care organizations and advocates supporting the measure. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

By William J. Ford

ANNAPOLIS — Residents, health care advocates and faith leaders converged Thursday on the State House in support of legislation that would create a prescription drug affordability board in Maryland.

According to the legislation from Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-District 21) of College Park and state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), one of the board’s responsibilities would be to “review the cost of a prescription drug product … [and] determine whether use of the prescription drug product … has led or will lead to affordability challenges for the state health care system or high out-of-pocket costs for patients.”

The board would consist of members with expertise in health care economics, or clinical medicine.

The body, which would operate as an independent unit, can make a drug company that introduces a new brand new at $30,000 or more per year, or wholesale acquisition increase of at least $3,000 must validate the cost.

After review, the board could set “an upper limit” on the drug.

“Wherever you go, people talk about the high cost of prescription drugs,” Klausmeier said. “There are so many new drugs out there. The bottom line is we have to get prescription drug cost down.”

One resident, Jo Saint-George, relayed how she and her husband needed to use their entire savings after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

In addition to costly surgeries and doctor appointments, her prescription drug medication runs $700 per bottle. Sometimes she split her medication so it could last longer, but eventually ended up back in the hospital, she said, “creating another bill that I still have on my credit today.”

“I’m willing to get transparent and personal around this issue because I never thought I would be on medication,” said Saint-George, an attorney and member of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP. “But when tragedy strikes, you don’t know when that’s going to happen. So we need these types of supports and affordability to make sure when people goes through these things, they can transition and be alive.”

Politically, there are nearly 100 co-sponsors of the legislation in the House with seven Republicans. One of the most outspoken supporters, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, said it costs his jurisdiction nearly $7 million a year on prescription drugs for about 900 employees.

“For local governments, health care prescription costs are one of the leading drivers of the problems we are having,” said Glassman, a Republican. “This is a Maryland problem. It’s a national problem. This bill is a good first step at bringing those folks in to justify these enormous price increases.”

Both bills are scheduled for hearings in both the Senate and House on March 6, which could receive some opposition.

Nick McGee, spokesman for the D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said in a statement Thursday the legislation would enact price controls on prescription medicines that would limit patient access.

“It recycles failed ideas that give government broad authority to arbitrarily set prices and undermine the competitive market that is critical to bringing down costs and delivering new treatments to patients,” he said. “This misguided approach could also have a chilling effect on new innovation and the thriving biotech industry that supports thousands of jobs in Maryland.”

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer. 

Md. Ponders New Board to Regulate Prescription Drug Prices

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