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Md. health care group urges support for anti-price gouging package

A Baltimore-based health care organization is proposing legislation to go after drug companies for price gouging, warning legislators of a poll it said shows voters are willing to make this an issue at the ballot box two years.

Legislation proposed by Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative would require pharmaceutical companies to provide public notice of price increases and to justify those prices. Additionally the proposal would give the state’s attorney general authorization to go after companies for price gouging. The organization also released a poll it said shows voters are willing to vote for or against legislators based on their votes on this one issue.

‘Our prescription drug initiative is good policy and good politics,’ says Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, a Baltimore-based health care advocacy group. (File photo)

‘Our prescription drug initiative is good policy and good politics,’ says Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, a Baltimore-based health care advocacy group. (File photo)

“Our prescription drug initiative is good policy and good politics,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, a Baltimore-based health care advocacy group. “It will save lives, improve public health and voters of Maryland want it. We intend to make this our No. 1 priority in the 2017 General Assembly session.”

Included in the package, which does not yet have a House or Senate sponsor, are:

  • Requiring major manufactures to disclose the basis for prices of prescription drugs.
  • Requiring major drug manufacturers to provide prior notice of increases on wholesale drug prices on any brand or specialty drug when the increase is 10 percent or more.
  • Authorizing the Maryland Office of the Attorney General to take legal action “to prevent price gouging by major drug corporations.”

DeMarco said federal legislation would be more helpful but said the issue has grown to the point where the state legislature should act and called it “an emergency that needs to be dealt with.”

“We are going to try, through our legislation, to get as much information as we can so that the public can know what’s happening,” DeMarco said. “And we hope that the information will help inform legislation at the federal level where they can do something.”

DeMarco said a poll commissioned by his group, conducted by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks, shows strong bipartisan support for his organization’s initiatives. Additionally, he said, the poll shows voters are willing to make it an issue in the 2018 election and even change party allegiances.

Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, said voters have “a very high level of personal concern” about the issue.

“Voters see a link between prescription costs and health insurance costs and are feeling pressure around that,” Raabe said, adding that voters appear willing to make that pressure felt in the voting booth.

“For members of the General Assembly who will be voting on this issue, there will be major political impact from the voters based upon this issue,” he said. “The numbers are quite striking, in my opinion.”

On a generic ballot for state legislature, Democratic candidates start with a 20-point edge because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1. Raabe said that when you position that hypothetical Democratic candidate as a supporter of the legislation and the Republican as opposing it, that margin of support balloons to a 40 percent gap in favor of the Democrat.

The poll found similar results for generic Republican candidates who support the legislation who were pitted against generic Democratic opponents who do not support the legislation. In those cases, Raabe said, voter support shifts the Republican from a 20-point deficit to 27-point margin of victory.

“I will tell you in my experience polling on issues, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this kind of a swing in voter opinion based on a single issue,” Raabe said. “It’s a powerful, palpable issue in the minds of many voters that are struggling to afford prescription drugs and health costs and they’re demonstrating that by what they are saying to us here.”

In response to the proposed Maryland legislation, a spokeswoman for a Washington, D.C.-based pharmaceutical association said in a statement that more work needs to be done to ensure access to insurance.

“Marylanders deserve affordable access to the life-saving prescriptions they need, which begins with ensuring access to quality insurance for families and individuals,” said Caitlin A. Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association. “Unfortunately, Americans are facing more out-of-pocket costs as insurers increasingly use coinsurance and high deductible to shift costs onto patients. Patients are also paying more for their monthly premiums, as insurers in Maryland seek to hike rates by 28 percent next year. According to a recent Avalere Health analysis, nearly half of next year’s premium increases are due to higher costs for inpatient and outpatient care, while prescriptions have actually decreased as a share of costs since 2014.”

The package would place Maryland on the leading edge of an effort to address the issue in the wake of concerns about the increased price of life-saving drugs such as EpiPen and the anti-opioid drug Naloxone as well as the  5,556 percent price increase on the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim.

Earlier this year, Vermont passed legislation requiring pharmaceutical companies to justify price hikes on medicine — a law DeMarco said is a weaker version than the legislation his group is proposing for Maryland.

The sponsor of a bill in California that would have required advanced notification on prescription drug price hikes was withdrawn last month by its sponsor after it was gutted by a legislative committee.

DeMarco said he believes Maryland would become the first state to authorize its attorney general to investigate alleged price gouging and take pharmaceutical companies to court.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who last year wrote a newspaper op-ed calling for federal legislation addressing the issue, said his office is working with DeMarco to find a legislative solution in Maryland.

“If the feds aren’t going to do it then my second choice would be to let the state have at it,” Frosh said.




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