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Maryland House of Delegates OKs bill to create a prescription drug price board for government employees

Maryland House of Delegates OKs bill to create a prescription drug price board for government employees
In this June 15, 2018, photo, pharmaceuticals are seen in North Andover, Massachusetts. (Elise Amendola / AP)

The Maryland House of Delegates approved Wednesday a bill that would create a state board to set limits on how much state and local governments pay for medicines for their employees and retirees.

The bill was approved largely along party lines on a 98-40 vote, moving the measure to the state Senate for consideration.

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The bill was scaled back from how it was introduced, when it would have created a board to monitor prices and set limits on drugs for all consumers in Maryland.

But advocates for the bill said the revised version — affecting only county and state governments — is a good first step, as state and local governments insure large numbers of current and retired workers.

“Soaring drug costs are a major burden for state and local governments, and this bill will help bring those down, which allows government to invest more in other public needs, such as education and public safety,” Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said in a statement.

DeMarco’s group lined up support from several county executives, who testified for the bill and appeared in radio and TV ads.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America criticized the bill, saying the board’s review processes might lead to delays in patients being able to have access to drugs.

“The proposal unfairly targets Maryland state, county and other employees by leaving their access to critical treatment options in doubt,” Nick McGee, a spokesman for PhRMA, said in a statement.

McGee said that “insurers and other middlemen” often set drug prices and determine which drugs are available to patients — not the manufacturers.

Under the bill, a five-member Prescription Drug Affordability Board would review drugs including: new brand-name drugs that would cost a patient more than $30,000 per year, existing brand-name drugs with a price increase of more than $3,000 per year, existing generic drugs with a price increase of more than 200 percent per year, and any other drug that creates “affordability challenges.”

Starting in 2021, the drug board could set limits on drug prices paid by state and local government insurance plans. In 2023, the drug board would recommend to the General Assembly whether the board’s authority should be expanded to all Marylanders.

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