Proposal for Prescription Drug Board Gains More Bipartisan Support

Harford County spends about $6.7 million a year on prescription medications for its nearly 900 employees. County Executive Barry Glassman (R) and his budget team have watched with alarm as price hikes have placed a growing strain on local resources.

Three medications stand out for their impact, he said. Together, they account for just 84 prescriptions per month.

But their collective price tag is eye-popping — more than $810,000 per year.

“Really, it’s shocking,” he said.

The drugs fueling the sticker shock in Bel Air and other counties are Humira, Enbrel and Stelara. All three treat arthritis and plaque psoriasis, among other ailments.

The manufacturers of all three medications advertise heavily.

“These ‘TV drugs’ are a big part of the problem,” Glassman said.

In light of the impact drug costs are having on Harford’s budget, Glassman is supporting creation of a prescription drug affordability board in Maryland. He has written letters to every Republican member of the General  Assembly urging them to support the measure as well.

The proposal, a top priority of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, has the backing of Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and county executives from Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore and elsewhere — all Democrats.

Glassman’s support “has really opened doors for us,” said Vincent DeMarco, head of the organization. “It establishes that this is a nonpartisan issue. And he’s a very popular guy.”

Nearly 100 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors — including seven Republicans — far more than the number needed for passage.

The board would “protect state residents, state and local governments, commercial health plans, health care providers, pharmacies … and other stakeholders … from the high costs of prescription drug products.”

The measure establishes membership criteria for the panel and requires the board to meet every six weeks to review drug prices. If a drug is deemed to be too expensive, the panel could set “upper payment limits” and order reimbursements.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R)

Among the GOP co-sponsors is Del. Ric Metzgar (R-Baltimore County), who said that constituents express concern about high drug costs every day.

“Prescriptions are always coming up,” he said. “The cost is getting so outrageous. As President Trump said, we’ve got to bring that in line, and look at the profit margins.”

Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s, Anne Arundel) is the primary sponsor of the House version, HB 768. The House Government Operations Committee, where Pena-Melnyk is vice chair, has yet to schedule a hearing on the bill.

The Senate version, SB 759, is sponsored by President Pro Tem Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) and has been assigned to the Finance Committee. Her bill will have a hearing on March 6.

Faith leaders from around the state will announce their support for the measures Thursday.

In an interview of the first day of the legislative session, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said, “Prescription drug costs are outrageous. We have to figure out a way to do something about that.”

But he said any action Maryland takes must be constitutional.

On Tuesday, Amelia Chasse, the governor’s spokeswomen, said the governor recognizes that this is an important issue and will be the subject of much discussion and debate. He will closely evaluate any legislation that reaches his desk, she said.

Last April, a federal appeals court ruled that a Maryland law intended to block steep hikes in the price of generic medicines was unconstitutional.

An analysis of the Pena-Melnyk/Klausmeier bill, conducted at the delegate’s request, concluded that the measure establishing a prescription drug affordability board would withstand legal challenge.

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