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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Rhode Islanders need more affordable prescriptions

House introduces legislative package to address high prescription costs

motion graphics blender GIFThe House has introduced a package of bills aimed at addressing the high price of prescription drugs.

The eight bills aim to reduce the cost of prescriptions by providing a pathway to import less-costly drugs from Canada, providing more market transparency, raising consumer awareness around price changes and limiting patients’ share of the costs.

“Patients deserve to know what their drugs will cost, to pay a cost that is fair and reasonable and to be able to take advantage of all available opportunities to save on those costs. No one should have to skimp on or do without essentials because of prescriptions whose prices are artificially inflated to provide outsized corporate profits. Health care should be about patient care, not huge profits,” said House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).

The eight-bill package includes:


·         Legislation (2020-H 7121) sponsored by Health, Education and Welfare Committee Chairman Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) to create a prescription drug affordability board tasked with investigating and comprehensively evaluating drug prices for Rhode Islanders and possible ways to reduce them to make them more affordable.

·         A bill (2020-H 7525) sponsored by Labor Committee Chairwoman Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) to create a state-administered program to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada, which has drug safety regulations similar to those of the United States. Such programs are allowed under federal law, with approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

·         A bill sponsored by Rep. Thomas E. Noret (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick) requiring pharmacists to advise patients about less-expensive generic alternatives to their prescriptions or when it would cost them less to pay for their drugs outright instead of using their insurance. The bill (2020-H 7528) would also bar pharmacy benefits managers from imposing gag orders on pharmacists that prevent them from making such disclosures.

·         A bill limiting changes to a health plan’s drug formulary — its list of covered drugs — to protect consumers. Sponsored by Rep. Stephen M. Casey (D-Dist. 50, Woonsocket), this legislation (2020-H 7576) would generally limit plans to modifying formularies at renewal time with 60 days’ notice and require that modification be identical among all substantially identical benefit plans.

·         A prescription drug transparency act (2020-H 7579), sponsored by Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln). This bill would requires pharmaceutical drug manufacturers to provide wholesale drug acquisition cost information to the Department of Health and pharmacy benefit managers to provide information related to drug prices, rebates, fees and drug sales to the health insurance commissioner annually. Such transparency would help payers determine whether high prescription costs are justified.

·         Also sponsored by Representative Ackerman, a bill (2020-H 7396) to prohibit cost sharing for patients 45 or older for colorectal screening examinations, laboratory tests and colonoscopies covered by health insurance policies or plans. 

·         Legislation (2020-H 7526) sponsored by Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence) to limit the copay for prescription insulin to $50 for a 30-day supply for health plans that provide coverage for insulin.

·         Legislation (2020-H 7559) sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Dist. 38, Hopkinton, Westerly) to cap out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs at the federal limits for high-deductible health plans, currently $1,400 for individual plans and $2,800 for family plans.

All eight bills have companion legislation that has been introduced in the Senate. The first five bills are also part of a prescription affordability package supported by AARP-Rhode Island. All the bills have been assigned to the Health, Education and Welfare Committee.