Holding Big Pharma accountable in Montana

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We all know that some Montanans are forced to go without medication or struggle to afford paying for basic needs like housing and groceries because prescription drug costs are too high.

Here’s why: The pharmaceutical industry sets the prices. As just one example, they double the cost of insulin, forcing some Americans to ration the life-saving drug or travel to another country to get it at a fraction of the cost. And now Big Pharma is lobbying for even greater control of the cost of prescription drugs, putting Montanans at even greater risk of going without the medicine they need to stay alive.

During Montana’s recent legislative session, Commissioner Matt Rosendale put forward a bill that would have helped Big Pharma limit the ability of health and pharmacy benefit plans to negotiate lower prices. When it became clear Senate Bill 71 would have crippled the ability to negotiate lower drug prices and could lead to increased health care costs, Governor Bullock vetoed it.

While Commissioner Rosendale continues to advocate for the Big Pharma backed policy that we feared would increase costs for Montanans, the Trump administration recently withdrew a similar Big Pharma bailout proposal that would have eliminated the ability to negotiate drug prices. Consumer groups like AARP, which represents 38 million older Americans nationwide, raised grave concerns that this proposal would put Medicare on the hook for more of the costs. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found it would raise Medicare premiums and cost nearly $180 billion in government spending over the next decade.

It’s unclear why Commissioner Rosendale is still advocating for a bill that eliminates negotiating drug costs and ultimately would harm Montanans — especially after Governor Bullock and Montana legislators worked together in the 2019 legislative session to sign into law several new consumer protections to address healthcare and prescription drug costs in Montana.

These include a reinsurance bill to lower individual insurance premiums, legislation to protect federally qualified health centers from discrimination in prescription drug pricing, and a bill that applies strict protections from certain pharmacy benefit manager practices. Governor Bullock also enacted legislation to prohibit the outside companies that handle the distribution of prescription drugs from requiring pharmacies to charge consumers more in copayments than it costs to make a drug.

Big Pharma was also responsible for influencing legislators to vote against House Bill 710, which focused directly on manufacturers, the entities responsible for how much a drug costs to make. This common-sense law would have added increased transparency to prescription drug pricing by requiring prescription drug manufacturers to report information on specific and highly expensive drugs.

Today, prescription drugs are costing seniors more than four times their Social Security benefit. As Montanans, we began to address this issue in the 2019 legislative session. In future legislative sessions, it’s wise that we continue to do so with the implementation of further protections for consumers and by holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable — not with a bill that was only a guise to prop up Big Pharma’s influence in our state.

Adam Schafer is Gov. Steve Bullock’s Deputy Chief of Staff and formerly served as Deputy State Auditor from 2012-2014.

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