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Fight to Lower Prescription Drug Prices Continues at State Level

Big Pharma’s successful lawsuit won’t stop bipartisan movement

Pill bottle with a credit card in the background

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En español | You can win a battle but still be losing the war. Take a look at Big Pharma’s successful lawsuit to block a new Trump administration rule that would have required TV commercials for prescription drugs to include the list price of the drug being advertised.

Rattled by the mere thought of consumers' being afforded such transparency, a group of drug-makers, including pharma giants Merck, Eli Lilly and Amgen, filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration to block the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) TV ad rule, which was due to go into effect July 9.

Big Pharma won its lawsuit, a federal judge ruling in their favor last week. Chalk one up for those who somehow think that consumers shouldn’t know the prices of the drugs they’re taking.

Drug makers shouldn’t pop those corks yet

However, any high-fives or cork-popping going on in the halls on big pharma are missing the big picture. The tide is turning — and, like most successful movements, it is starting at the local level.

As evidence, take a look at 27 laws, supported by AARP and focused on lowering prescription drug prices, recently enacted in 16 states. There aren’t many things Republican and Democratic voters (let alone lawmakers) agree on these days, but one of them appears to be that brand-name prescription drugs in the U.S. cost way, way too much. 

Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs of anyone in the world — typically paying 2-3 times, or more, what patients in other nations such as Canada and the U.K. pay.  And keep in mind this is for the same drugs, often made in the same factories, by the same manufacturers.

And people are no longer prepared to accept out-of-control, skyrocketing prices for prescription drugs. These recent state actions represent promising first steps while Congress addresses possible remedies at the federal level. Those include allowing Medicare to negotiate lower Rx prices and legislation to bring more lower-priced generic drugs to market, such as ending an odious practice called “pay for delay,” which refers to the anticompetitive practice that occurs when makers of brand-name drugs pay would-be generic makers to stay out of the market.

27 new laws in 16 states — all seeking to lower Rx drug prices

Here’s a top line (see chart below) on recent legislative developments backed by AARP. In many states, the pharmaceutical industry fought hard to oppose these policies:

  • Florida — a law to establish a state program to import less expensive but equally safe and effective prescription drugs from Canada. The measure passed easily and was signed into law by a key proponent, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • Montana — a law that prohibits rules that limit a pharmacist’s ability to discuss lower-cost options with patients.    
  • Colorado — a law to establish a state program to import less expensive but equally safe and effective prescription drugs from Canada.
  • Colorado — a different law requiring drug manufacturers to provide prescribers the price of a drug when marketing or providing information on a drug to a prescriber.
  • Maryland — a first of its kind law that establishes a state prescription drug affordability board.  Under the law, the Board has the authority to review information from manufacturers on drugs with prices that greatly affect consumers and set an upper payment limits for these drugs that apply to all payer reimbursements in the state.
  • Texas — a law requiring drug-makers to disclose transparent pricing information.

More coming in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, California and more

In addition, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Wisconsin, Alabama and Maine have also all passed important prescription drug laws supported by AARP.  While the tactics may differ, the goal for each is the same: to help consumers who are struggling with high prescription drug prices. Meanwhile, pending legislation sharing the same goal is afoot in many other states including Illinois, New Jersey, New York and California, with action expected soon, as legislators in these states move on this critical issue that is of so much importance to so many voters.

This groundswell of bipartisanship at the state level shows that progress is underway and momentum is building. Hopefully, Congress will soon follow suit. 

Circus magnate P.T. Barnum is famously reputed to have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” If he was right, bipartisan momentum to drive lower prescription drug prices, currently playing out across the nation, shows what happens when people get tired of being taken for suckers.

Let’s look at the root of high drug prices.

Actions at the State Level

Alabama: Prohibition on Pharmacy Benefit Manager Gag Clauses (HB 69)

Alabama: Drug substitution (SB 73)

Colorado: Importation (SB 5)

Colorado: Price Disclosure to Health Professionals (HB 1131)

Florida: Importation (HB 19)

Indiana: Prescription Drug Pricing Study Committee (HB 1029)

Maine: Prescription Drug Price Transparency (LD 1162)

Maine: Prescription Drug Affordability Board (LD 1499)

Maine: Importation (LD 1272)

Maine: Pharmacy Benefit Manager Reform (LD 1504)

Maryland: Prescription Drug Affordability Board (HB768/SB749)

Minnesota: Pharmacy Benefit Manager Reform (SF 278)

Minnesota: State Budget – Prohibition on Pharmacy Benefit Manager Gag Clauses (Budget)

Minnesota: State Budget – Access to Medication in Emergency Situations (Budget)

Minnesota: State Budget – Prescription Drug Price Transparency (Budget)

Missouri: Prescription Drug Transparency Committee (Senate President Action)

Montana: Prohibition on Pharmacy Benefit Manager Gag Clauses (SB 270)

Nebraska: Prohibition on Pharmacy Benefit Manager Gag Clauses (LB 316)

Nevada: Expansion of Prescription Drug Price Transparency (SB 262)

Nevada: Prohibition on Pharmacy Benefit Manager Gag Clauses (AB 141)

Nevada: Patient Protection Commission (SB 544)

Nevada: Interim Prescription Drug Cost Commission (SB 276)

New Mexico: Pharmacy Benefit Council (SB 131)

Oregon: Expansion of Prescription Drug Price Transparency (HB 2658)

Texas: Prescription Drug Price Transparency (HB 2536)

Wisconsin: State Prescription Drug Assistance Program (CMS Waiver)

Wyoming: Prohibition on Pharmacy Benefit Manager Gag Clauses (HB 63)

— Chart Source: AARP, July 2019