By Josh Kurtz
With the state Senate set for a preliminary vote on a bill Tuesday that would eliminate a “gag rule” on pharmacists telling consumers they can pay less for prescription drugs, and a House committee hearing a bill to set up a Drug Cost Commission, an advocacy group is airing radio ads this week with individuals describing how they’ve been affected by the high cost of medication.
The ads are part of “a major buy” airing “from one end of the state to the other,” according Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative and the Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition, groups that are pushing for both pieces of legislation.
One ad features a heart patient from Salisbury who cannot afford all his prescription medication; one features a cancer survivor in Baltimore County who is the full-time caregiver for her husband, who recently had a brain aneurysm; the third has a Parkinson’s patient from Chester who fears any cure will be too expensive for most people to afford.
Senate Bill 576, sponsored by Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) is due on the Senate floor Tuesday after passing unanimously out of the Finance Committee last week. It would eliminate a “gag rule” that prevents pharmacists from telling consumers that they can pay less for their prescription drugs.
An identical bill, House Bill 736, has been introduced by Del. Eric M. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County). It is scheduled for a hearing in the House Health and Government Operations Committee on Thursday.
If the bill passes, pharmacists in Maryland would be allowed to inform customers they can pay less for a drug out of pocket than through their insurance – a practice that is currently prevented by some pharmacy benefit managers.
Five other states – Connecticut, Maine, Louisiana, North Dakota and Georgia – have already banned the practice. There is similar legislation before Congress, but it isn’t given much of a chance of passing.
The House panel will hear HB 1194, sponsored by Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) Tuesday at 1 p.m. That bill would set up a Drug Cost Commission in the state to more closely regulate prescription prices. The bill has 79 House sponsors, including a dozen on the Health and Government Operations Committee.
An identical bill, SB 1023, sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), was heard in the Finance Committee last week.