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Put Maryland back on path toward affordable prescription drugs | READER COMMENTARY

An entry sign to the Johnson & Johnson campus shows their logo in Irvine, California. States like Maryland continue to grapple with the high cost of prescription drugs.
An entry sign to the Johnson & Johnson campus shows their logo in Irvine, California. States like Maryland continue to grapple with the high cost of prescription drugs.(MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

A critical step toward making prescription drugs affordable for Marylanders won’t occur unless residents of the state promptly urge their state legislators to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto this month of a law needed to fund Maryland’s new Prescription Drug Affordability Board (“Here are key bills that Maryland Gov. Hogan vetoed,” May 7). AARP Maryland, which has 862,000 members, notes that the veto threatens the vital work of the board in finding and using ways to control the soaring prices of pharmaceuticals needed for the health of state residents.

The bills involved are House Bill 1095 and Senate Bill 669. Both passed with huge bipartisan margins in this year’s General Assembly session. They would establish a dedicated funding source needed to support the work of the board which was created by a state law in 2019. The new funding measure would allow PDAB to generate the revenue it will need to sustain and expand its work. And it would do that not only without costing the state money but also while paying back a $750,000 loan to the board by another state agency. The board would accomplish this by assessing annual fees not exceeding $2 million on pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmacy benefit managers, insurers, wholesale distributors and related entities.

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The Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which already has begun work to make prescription drugs more affordable for state and local government entities and their beneficiaries, has a mandate to present a plan to the General Assembly on how to make high-cost drugs more affordable to all Marylanders. Over time, its work stands to bring down pharmaceutical costs for all state residents including the largest users of prescription drugs, those over age 50.

During the 2019 legislative session, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a supporter of the board, reported that two medications alone, accounting for about 300 total prescriptions, ate up more than a third of the money the county spent on prescription drugs in 2018. Today, during the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to stand guard against price gouging by drug makers and other entities in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

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Governor Hogan’s veto of this legislation is disappointing, especially since the measure would not cost the state any money. And without the funds needed for its operations, the prescription drug board won’t be able to prevent drug prices from being so high they will remain out of reach for many Maryland residents. I therefore urge all Marylanders to promptly contact their state legislators and ask them to work now to override Governor Hogan’s veto in the next legislative session.

James Gutman, Columbia

The writer is a lead advocacy volunteer with AARP Maryland.

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