Supporters, opponents debate prescription drug legislation at State Capitol

March 26, 2019 06:20 PM

Supporters and opponents of legislation related to the cost of prescription drugs stated their case at the State Capitol Tuesday afternoon.

Committees in both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate held hearings on bills attempting to rein in some of those costs. 

Claire Henn of St. Paul sat in the gallery and listened closely as the Health and Human Services Finance Division committee debated several bills aimed at making prescription drugs more affordable.

Henn said the drug she takes to treat her rheumatoid arthritis skyrocketed from $60 per month to more than $1,400 per month.

"I'm a senior on a low income with a small pension," Henn said during a news conference Tuesday morning.

"There's no way I can pay $1,400 a month for treatment."

DFL Rep. Alice Mann of Lakeville is sponsoring a bill that would regulate Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and increase transparency.

PBMs act as a middle man of sorts between drug manufacturers and insurance companies.

"Other states have looked into more PBM transparency and even removing (PBMs) from the system," Mann said. "Each time this happens, the state saves millions of dollars."

However, not everyone agrees.

David Root with Prime Therapeutics testified Tuesday that Mann's bill could actually do the opposite by placing restrictions on what mail-order drug programs PBMs can use. 

"It will increase (consumers') drug costs and it will increase their overall total healthcare costs, which is typically reflected in their premiums and their out of pocket expenses," Root said.

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Henn and other supporters of the bills are hopeful that some, if not all, will pass and eventually be signed into law.

"The fact that there are people who are dying because they cannot afford their medications - something has to be done," Henn said. "You have to stop the price gouging and make it transparent so we can see where our money is going."

There are a total of seven bills related to prescription drug pricing and transparency currently progressing through the House of Representatives.

However, many of the companion bills in the Senate have yet to get a hearing.

Supporters said they are looking at multiple options to keep the legislation moving forward, and ultimately getting it to Gov. Tim Walz's desk.

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Tim Vetscher

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