A bill tackling prescription drug costs and access easily cleared the Senate on Thursday, though it now faces an uncertain path as it moves to the House.
The bill would require pharmaceutical companies to notify the state before bringing new drugs to market or significantly hiking prices for existing drugs. It would pull drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers into state agencies’ reviews of health costs, cap out-of-pocket insulin spending at $25 a month, and create a trust fund to help cover costs of prescription drugs for certain chronic conditions.
“If we’re going to continue to make progress in reducing the cost of health care, we must take meaningful action to reduce the cost of drugs,” said Sen. Cindy Friedman, the Senate chair of the Health Care Financing Committee.
The bill, which passed on a 39-1 vote with Sutton Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman in opposition, builds on similar legislation the Senate unanimously passed in 2019. That bill eventually died in the House.
While Speaker Ron Mariano has championed a bill that would step up oversight of certain hospital expansions, House leaders this session have not identified the pharmaceutical side of health care as a legislative priority, and the two branches for several years have largely pursued different approaches to health policy.
Senators seemed to allude to the bill’s murky future while debating a drug coupon amendment from Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, which failed on a 7-31 vote.
Friedman and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues said extending the authorization for prescription drug coupons is typically done through a state budget rider. One reason to put it in the annual spending bill is because “we know that that vehicle will eventually get done and get to the governor’s desk,” Rodrigues said.
Tarr replied that he was optimistic the Senate’s drug bill “will have viability in the legislative process.”
“I’m not ready to say that this is not a viable bill,” the Gloucester Republican said.
The Massachusetts Prescription Drug Affordability Coalition, which includes Health Care for All, the Massachusetts Medical Society, AARP Massachusetts and other groups, said its members hope “the full Legislature will take swift, decisive action to support consumers by reining in rising drug costs and lowering out-of-pocket costs for chronic disease treatments.”
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