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Senate Democrats Working to Lower Prescription Drug Costs

Seacoast Online January 17, 2020

By Sens. Cindy Rosenwald, Dan Feltes, Martha Fuller Clark and Tom Sherman

No one should be forced to choose between their physical health and their financial health. Unfortunately, this is the case for many New Hampshire families who are counting on the Legislature to address skyrocketing prescription drug prices.

This week, Senate Democrats introduced six bills to tackle this crisis. We are working together to establish a wholesale prescription drug importation program, ban price gouging in the sale of prescription drugs, prohibit change in prescription drug insurance coverage in the middle of a plan year, make sure patients aren’t stuck paying for excess markups in the supply chain that drive up the cost of their prescriptions, increase prescription drug price transparency, protect a patient’s right to choose their pharmacy, and establish a New Hampshire prescription drug affordability board.

This past summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration published a plan allowing for the importation of less expensive prescription drugs from Canada. This plan gathered bipartisan support on a national level and we are proud to present the option to Granite Staters. Senate Bill 685 would make certain drugs from Canada available to the state, insurers, pharmacies and prescribers. In turn, New Hampshire residents would gain access to these medications at a lower cost. This increased affordability and accessibility is crucial to ensure people don’t skip medications due to cost, a problem for 25% of Granite Staters. Maine and Vermont recently took similar steps and New Hampshire consumers should not be left behind.

Drug manufacturers and wholesalers have been allowed to operate without accountability for pricing. We understand the importance of checks and balances and believe that drug manufacturers need to be held to a new standard that ensures price hikes are warranted and do not harm patients by making essential medications unaffordable. We’ve introduced SB 688 to combat price gouging by drug manufacturers and wholesalers.

In this same vein, we believe a patient should be allowed to choose their own pharmacy. When a pharmacy benefit manager or insurer steers patients to their own pharmacies for financial gain they are negatively impacting patient choice. SB 689 acts as anti-steering legislation to maintain patient choice and prevent exclusive practices.

When Granite Staters choose their health care plans during open enrollment, they select a plan based on the out-of-pocket costs for their current medications. Currently, state law only requires a 45-day notice for drugs to be removed from the formulary. If a drug is removed from the formulary and replaced with a high cost alternative, people end up paying unexpected medical bills out-of-pocket. This is unmanageable for families planning their annual budget down to the dollar. In SB 690, we prohibit insurers from removing drugs from the formulary and protect the carefully made budgets of New Hampshire families.

While there is enough blame to go around for increasing drug prices, one area we are seeking to clarify is markups along the way from manufacturer through pharmacy benefits managers to patients. We’ve introduced SB 686 to increase their accountability and transparency. By increasing the oversight of pharmacy benefit managers we will help to prevent cost increases throughout the supply chain by more fairness from the start.

We know the pricing structure for prescription drugs is complicated. Even a physician may have trouble navigating how to protect their patients so they aren’t forced to choose between buying groceries and necessary medications. SB 687 creates a drug affordability board to bridge the gap between those working on the inside of price development and health care professionals. By creating a state based drug affordability board, we will be able to access necessary data on costs and have a group of experts in place to analyze it, giving our health care professionals the tools they need to make more informed decisions and further protect their patients.

Prescription drug relief for Granite Staters is long overdue. It is imperative that we do everything we can to combat dramatic cost hikes for medications, which is hurting New Hampshire families.

Sen. Rosenwald represents District 13, Sen. Feltes represents District 15, Sen. Fuller Clark represents District 21, Sen. Sherman represents District 24. The views expressed are those of the writers.

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