Bipartisan Group of Local Officials Backing Prescription Drug Plan

    Alarmed by a sharp spike in the cost of many prescription drugs, a bipartisan coalition of local Maryland officials is getting behind another push to provide relief to consumers who depend on a wide range of medications.

    Officials will endorse forthcoming legislation in this year’s General Assembly session to establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which would “evaluate high cost drugs and set reasonable rates for Marylanders to pay,” according to the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, which is organizing support for the measure.

    “We see so many people in Maryland who can’t afford the drugs they need,” said Vincent DeMarco, the organization’s president. “There should be somebody who is looking out for the people.”

    Dozens of organizations have signed a petition urging the General Assembly to create a drug panel during the 2019 session, which begins next Wednesday. On Thursday, during the Maryland Association of Counties winter conference in Cambridge, the mayor of Baltimore and county executives from Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, Frederick and Harford will publicly endorse the measure, along with leaders from AARP and the NAACP.

    Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) and Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) are the lead sponsors of the legislation.

    As drafted, the Prescription Drug Affordability Board would consist of five members, appointed by the governor, attorney general and legislative leaders. It would have the power to review price spikes in drugs already on the market and new medications that have an initial cost above $30,000 per year.

    “So many people rely on prescription drugs to lead healthy lives, and it’s a tragedy that many of them struggle to pay for their medications,” said Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) in a statement. “Some people must go without those lifesaving drugs simply because of the prices. This must stop.”

    “All of us in local government have felt the pain caused by escalating prescription drug prices,” said Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R). “I support the Prescription Drug Affordability Board as an innovative way that we can address this problem at the state level.”

    The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative petition claims that drug prices increased nearly 9 percent in 2016, a year that saw general inflation go up just over 2 percent. The organization said that more than half of Medicare beneficiaries did not fill at least one prescription due to cost.

    A bill creating a prescription price review board was considered during last year’s legislative session but did not advance.

    It’s believed the drug price panel would be the first of its kind in the nation.

    “This isn’t going to pass nationally, which is why we need [the state] to act,” DeMarco said.

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    Bruce DePuyt
    Bruce DePuyt spent more than two decades on local television, including 14 years as host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the D.C. metro region. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County, as well as a reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. Bruce also is the host of the weekly The Bruce DePuyt Podcast.