Pa Lawmakers Consider Drug Affordability Board to Review, Cap Prescription Costs

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Wednesday, the House Health Committee held a hearing on drug pricing and whether a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) would bring down drug costs for those who rely on them.

Many residents who rely on prescriptions provided a dose of reality to those at today’s hearing.

“Medicare prescription prices are out of control,” said Julie Nardella, a resident of South Abington Twp.

“The blood thinner that he will need to take for at least the next six months to stay alive costs $500 a month,” said Pamela Haines, a Philadelphia resident who discussed financial challenges resulting from an unexpected health complication of her husband’s.

A handful of states, including Maryland and Colorado have established a PDAB through law. Though the structure and role of each state’s PDAB may slightly vary, depending on how the law is written, the overarching goal of the boards- according to proponents- is simple: to analyze, review and reduce high drug costs for consumers and even for state programs.

Pennsylvania has proposed legislation in previous sessions to establish its own PDAB. Some lawmakers and advocates believe it’s a necessary change that reduces costs without hindering pharmaceutical innovation.

“We can preserve profitability for pharmaceutical companies, we know that’s important, but we can also make it reasonable and make it possible for people to be able to afford life-sustaining, lifesaving medication,” said Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Chairman of the Health Committee. “This is a fairly unique approach because it is preserving the fact that it is a free market, that we want to incentivize the development of new pharmaceuticals, but there’s a way to balance the need for profit by pharmaceutical companies to incentivize the investment in reasonable upper payment limits, which is what we’re talking about here,” Frankel added.

Frankel believes upper payment limits, or caps, are necessary for expensive pharmaceutical costs in Pennsylvania. He says the board’s function would be similar to that of the Public Utility Commission.

“The same way a public utility commission listens to the utility companies about when they look for a price increase- how do you justify it? What’s the benefit? How do we proceed? Regulating the cost of heat, water, electricity, those are life sustaining needs. Pharmaceuticals are the same,” said Frankel.

“We need solutions, and this prescription drug affordability board is one way to pursue that,” said Teresa Osborne, the AARP Director of State Advocacy.

However, some are opposed to PDABs and say they hinder innovation while neglecting to address core issues.

“History shows that when foreign governments have set the price of medicines, research and development, investment and innovation have greatly declined. This type of legislation fails to account for middlemen and other actors in the supply chain who actually have the control of the ultimate prices that patients pay at the pharmacy,” said Charise Johnson, Director of State Policy for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). “PDABs not only seek to create boards that consist of unelected members that can arbitrarily set policies, but some, like the Pennsylvania legislation from last session, also empowers the members to set an upper payment limit or a price cap on all purchases or reimbursements for the drug in the state,” she added.

“Nobody should be paying $400 for a prescription,” said Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Crawford/Forest), the minority chair of the House Health Committee.

Lawmakers from both parties agree more needs to be done, but Republicans like Rapp have questions about the board and the legislation in Pennsylvania that would establish it.

“The legislation would determine what the board would do. I and our members have not seen an actual piece of legislation this session that lays out how the board would be formed, who’s on the board and what’s the cost of the board, and what is the responsibility of that board? We don’t know that. We don’t have the legislation,” said Rapp.


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