Friday, November 15, 2019

Senate Adopts Bill To Reduce Prescription Drug Costs

Senator Bruce Tarr Champions Proposals to Lower Medication Prices and Enforce Transparency Requirements 

Boston- The Massachusetts Senate has now approved a comprehensive bill aimed at stemming the ever increasing costs of medicines and expanding consumer access to information and the oversight role of government agencies regulating the pharmaceutical industry.

The bill, an Act Relative To Pharmaceutical Access, Cost and Transparency incorporates several components previously filed as bills or amendments by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), aimed at controlling the increasing costs of prescription medicines and better equipping patients with greater access to healthcare services and information.

Those provisions championed by Tarr include:
• Lifting a so-called ‘gag rule’ prohibiting the disclosure to consumers of lower cost medicines,
• Instituting licensure for pharmacy benefit managers, and,
• Requiring pharmacy benefit managers to be audited.

In addition, the Senate adopted other amendments to the bill that Tarr offered to:
• Extend the life of the state’s authorization of the prescription drug coupon program to lower consumer costs,
• Study the price impact of pharmacy benefit managers.

Tarr also collaborated with Senator Eric Lesser (D- Longmeadow) on an amendment to explore the potential of an interstate bulk drug purchasing program.

“The Senate’s action today reflects a bipartisan product that incorporates ideas proposed by members of the Republican Caucus including; extending drug discount couponing, subjecting pharmacy benefit managers to licensure requirements and auditing for the first time, expanding transparency in pharmacy system costs, and ending a long-standing ‘gag rule’ that has prevented pharmacists from offering lower prices for medicines,” said Senator Tarr. “The Senate’s bill puts systems in place that will reduce costs of life-sustaining medicines while also increasing access to them. These cost savings, coupled with expanded transparency and oversight within the pharmaceutical industry, will bring needed relief to families across the Commonwealth.”

The bill, known as the PACT Act, moves Massachusetts forward in its ability to respond to growing calls for relief from high drug costs and enhanced accountability for the industry. It requires both pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers to submit cost, pricing, rebate and other relevant information to state regulators for analysis and reporting.

Pharmacy benefit managers are not currently subjected to rigorous oversight by the state, making it unclear if they act in the best interest of the consumer or health insurance plans when they negotiate with pharmaceutical makers on drug prices. The PACT Act authorizes the Division of Insurance to license and regulate pharmacy benefit managers and establish sanctions if they fail to meet certain standards.

Tarr, long a proponent of removing a so-called ‘gag rule’ which currently prevents pharmacists from informing consumers when a prescription drug is available at a lower retail price than their own insurance plan would charge, said the bill now ends that practice.

“Healthcare is only effective when people in need can obtain it,” said Senator Tarr. “Having a policy that needlessly fosters higher costs is a barrier to health and it needs to be eliminated.”

In addition, the legislation directs the state’s Health Policy Commission (HPC), to establish a process for identifying drug price levels that jeopardize patient access. Other provisions allow the HPC to recommend pricing measures to increase patient access to necessary medications.

The bill introduces immediate price relief for more than 700,000 Massachusetts residents who live with diabetes by setting a cap on the cost of insulin at $25 a month. The same drug can cost more than $1,000 a year under some insurance plans.