DRUG COSTS BILL (S 2651)

By Bob Katzen

The Senate 39-1, approved and sent to the House a bill aimed at addressing the high and rapidly increasing costs of prescription drugs in the Bay State. A key provision provides immediate price relief for insulin used by one in ten people living with diabetes who must take it daily or risk major health problems.

The measure limits out-of-pocket spending for insulin by eliminating deductibles and coinsurance and capping co-pays at $25 per month. Rising insulin prices have resulted in some people paying out-of-pocket costs of $1,000 or more per year, leading to some patients decreasing their insulin dose or not taking it at all.

Other provisions include requiring pharmaceutical companies to notify the state in advance of new drugs coming to market, and of significant price increases for existing drugs; providing patients with greater access to mail-order prescriptions; and several transparency and accountability mandates.

“This legislation moves the commonwealth one step closer to a system that delivers affordable, high quality and accessible care for our residents,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “[The bill] ensures that more consumers can access prescription drugs at a fair price, by capping out-of-pocket insulin costs, providing relief for certain high-cost drugs, improving patient access to medications and pharmacies of their choice and enhancing transparency and oversight within the pharmaceutical industry.”

“Our Helpline takes calls from people across the state who can’t afford their medications,” said Amy Rosenthal, executive director at Health Care For All. “Individuals and families in Massachusetts have been struggling for far too long to access and afford the prescriptions they need, and this legislation provides critical financial relief at a pivotal time,.By passing this bill today, senators took an important step to rein in excessive drug costs, bringing oversight of pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers in line with other health care industries in the state.”

Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton), the only senator to vote against the measure, acknowledged that there are many laudable parts of the bill but criticized parts to which he objected and resulted in his vote against it. “[The bill] unfairly penalizes individuals who receive mail-order prescriptions by raising the cost of their drugs,” said Fattman. “Many people today use mail order prescriptions from pharmacies because of the convenience and the fact that there are certain discounts offered for out-of-pocket costs. The number of people that use this program has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic, as it was seen as a safer and more convenient alternative for many people who wanted to avoid going to the store and being in public. The passage of this bill will force all current mail-order pharmacy patients, many of whom are older or ill, to pay higher out-of-pocket cost because they will not be allowed to take advantage of these discounts. [That provision] is a poison pill, and in good conscience, I can’t vote to increase costs for drugs for those who want them delivered via mail.”

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against the bill.)

Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes

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