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More States Win Prescription Drug Protections

Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio advance Rx fixes

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Legislatures and governors are continuing to respond to consumer demands for relief from the runaway costs of prescription drugs. Three more states have enacted measures designed to improve drug pricing transparency and help patients understand more about their medications.

So far in 2019, new laws, provisions in state budgets and executive orders by governors have been signed in 21 states, according to organizers of AARP's Stop Rx Greed campaign, which has been urging federal and state officials to find ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Included in these measures were bills in three states (Colorado, Florida and Maine) authorizing the importation of lower-cost medicines from Canada and other countries. Seven states (Alabama, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming) banned so-called pharmacy gag clauses that prevented pharmacists from telling customers that the list price of a medication may be cheaper than their insurance copay. And seven states (Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Washington) either created or strengthened drug price transparency rules.

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More price transparency in Massachusetts

Included in the new Massachusetts state budget are a number of provisions intended to address the high cost of prescription drugs. One will require pharmaceutical companies to explain to the state's health policy commission how prices are set for some high-priced brand-name drugs being prescribed to Medicaid patients. The budget will also allow the commission to negotiate prices with drugmakers and hold public hearing on some high drug prices.

This provision “will shine a light on how they are charging the state through the Medicaid program, and these are drugs that are also commonly used by consumers,” says Mike Festa, AARP Massachusetts state director. “This will give us more leverage in the debate in the public eye,” including with the myriad bills pending in the state legislature that would more directly lead to lower drug prices for consumers.

Illinois adopts information measure

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law designed to make it easier for doctors to receive neutral information about the drugs they prescribe for their patients. The measure will provide physicians who participate in the Medicaid program with objective medical research and information on medications.

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"This is a necessary means of combatting the influence of the pharmaceutical industry and shifting the focus from drug companies to medical patients desperate for treatments that are best suited for their problems,” AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo wrote in a letter to the governor last month supporting the legislation. “Older adults and their families should not be forced to pay for overpriced prescription drugs at a time when they are relying on health care providers to help them feel better."

AARP Illinois is continuing to highlight the prescription drug crisis. Attendees at this week's Illinois State Fair are being asked to provide their prescription drug costs to be entered into a giant AARP calculator that will be updated hourly to illustrate how much money consumers are spending on medicines.

Ohio establishes drug council

A provision added to the budget in Ohio establishes a prescription drug transparency and affordability council. Similar boards and commissions have been authorized this year in seven other states (Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico). The council is expected to issue recommendations on how Ohio can best achieve prescription drug transparency and leverage the state's purchasing power.

Jason Smith, associate state director of advocacy for AARP Ohio, called the creation of the advisory council “an important first step in lowering prescription drug prices."

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