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Advocates Confident of Override on Drug Board Funding

Citing strong backing from the Democrats who control the General Assembly, health care advocates expressed confidence on Monday that the legislature will overturn Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto of one of their top priorities.

The measures — Senate Bill 669 and House Bill 1095 — established a funding source for the Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which the state created in 2019 to come up with ways of controlling the runaway cost of medications.

The measure would levy a fee on drug manufacturers, wholesalers, insurance carriers and pharmacy benefits managers.

Hogan vetoed the bill earlier this month, citing the staggering impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on the state’s economy.

The veto leaves the board in limbo. It is required by law to repay a $750,000 loan from the Maryland Health Care Commission and to fund future operations. If Hogan’s veto stands, the panel would have no way to do so.

The Senate version of the bill passed unanimously, 45-0, on March 15, one of the legislature’s final days before its early adjournment. The House version passed along party lines, 98-36, on the same day.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Healthcare Initiative, predicted the legislature will override Hogan’s veto with relative ease.

“This was one of the very few measures that was introduced by the Speaker and the Senate President,” he said. “Looking down the list, I can’t see 13 [House] Democrats who would switch. I just can’t see it.”

On Monday, his organization launched a $15,000 Facebook campaign against the veto — an effort he claimed would reach a million Marylanders.

While the pharmaceutical industry vigorously opposed the creation of the board a year ago, none of their many Annapolis lobbyists fought this year’s funding bills. Nor did they press the administration for a veto, according to a source.

“Nobody opposed the bill,” said DeMarco. “There wasn’t a single person who testified against it.”

If each of the estimated 1,400 entities was assessed a $1,000 fee under the bill Hogan vetoed, it would raise $1.4 million, enough to fund the board’s first few years of operation.

“That is less than chicken feed for these folks,” DeMarco said. “They spend that on lunches in one day.”

 The board is allowed to raise $2 million to fund its research into possible ways of lowering consumer drug costs.

A request for comment from the governor’s staff on Monday was not immediately returned.

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Advocates Confident of Override on Drug Board Funding