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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bill Asks For Transparency In Prescription Drug Prices

Prescription drugs. Stock photo.
Prescription drugs. Stock photo.

HELENA -- As the cost of prescription drugs continues to rise, one bill moving through the Montana Legislature would require pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide information on why the price of a drug has increased.

Rep. Katie Sullivan, D-Missoula, is carrying House Bill 710. She says she has a personal motivation because her husband has a chronic pain condition that requires prescription drugs costing up to $9,000 a month.

Luckily, Sullivan says, their health insurance covers the cost. But, she says, that doesn’t solve the high cost itself, meaning insurance companies, Medicaid and Medicare calculate that high cost into premiums.

“Even though insurance is paying for my husband’s medication, the expense does not disappear,” Sullivan said.

The bill would require drug manufacturers to submit a transparency report that justifies why a prescription has increased in price. The report would be required if a price is hiked 10 percent or more, and if the drug costs more than $100.

The bill was voted out of committee and will move to House floor for debate.

Sullivan made clear that these reports are for research purposes, not price fixing. She says it would help identify the key drivers of drug price inflation.

Representatives from the Montana Medical Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, PacificSource Health Plans, AARP and the Office of the Montana State Auditor spoke in support of the bill in a Wednesday hearing in the House Business and Labor Committee.

Laura Vachowski spoke in support representing AARP. She cited a survey the organization conducted with likely voters on prescription drugs prices.

“Seventy-two percent of the respondents were concerned about the cost of the medications and nearly 40 percent -- 40 percent -- of the respondents said they did not fill a prescription because of the high cost,” Vachowski said.

Dana Malick, a lobbyist for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spoke in opposition to the bill. She says manufacturers already offer rebates and discount prices, but that patients don’t see the benefits of those if their insurance premiums don’t reflect the savings.

This isn’t the only bill aiming to regulate prescription costs. Senate Bill 71, carried by Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, would regulate pharmacy benefit managers who broker deals between insurers, manufacturers and pharmacies.

That bill has cleared the Senate and its first House committee vote.

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

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