For decades Maine has been among the nation’s leaders in the fight to protect people who depend on prescription drugs, to ensure access to necessary medicines and to demand fair practices in the industry.

“In one recent filing with the Bureau of Insurance, prescription drug prices contributed more to increased health care costs than any other product or service,” John Brautigam notes. Miriam82/Shutterstock

This fight is not over. While generic drugs can reduce overall costs, some manufacturers continue to increase prices without justification other than the power to get away with it. Although the pandemic altered many of the contours of the health care sector, the need to be vigilant against the practices of some pharmaceutical manufacturers is as urgent as ever.

Prescription drug prices contribute to rising health care costs, which have an impact in the economy far beyond the life of the individual patient. More than a third of small businesses that offer health care coverage say that they have not been able to hire new employees as a result of concern about costs, as reported in a survey by Small Business for America’s Future.

And while health care spending showed a temporary – and welcomed – decline in recent months, the cost of prescription drugs bucks the trend, increasing even in the midst of the pandemic, according to the Milliman Medical Index. In one recent filing with the Bureau of Insurance, prescription drug prices contributed more to increased health care costs than any other product or service.”

Mainers continue to pay more year after year. The 25 drugs with the greatest price increases cost Mainers $167 million more last year than previously. One version of generic Prozac jumped from $9 to $69 in just one month.

People are fed up. Three out of four Mainers say that prescription drug costs are a major concern. According to the Small Business for America’s Future survey, 82 percent of small businesses want the government to limit drug price increases to the cost of inflation.

Now, Senate President Troy Jackson and Sen. Ned Claxton have sponsored bills aimed at preventing outrageous price gouging and unsupported price hikes.

We’re not dealing with chewing gum or video games. People’s lives depend on access to their medications. And in the drug industry, competitive forces have repeatedly failed to deter bad actors, leading to astronomical price hikes.

Countless Mainers suffer this economic burden stoically, but others are speaking out. At a recent hearing, some told heart-wrenching stories of struggling to pay for the basic necessities of life including the medicine they or their loved ones need. They were joined in support of the legislation by venerable organizations including AARP and the Maine Council on Aging, as well as economic analysts from the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

Pharmaceutical companies have no principled defense for the shocking price hikes we have seen in the headlines. Instead, they threaten lawsuits and legal fees, putting enormous pressure on policy makers. Twenty years ago, Maine legislators met this challenge head on, enacting the Maine Rx law. When companies threatened to sue, lawmakers did not fold. Instead, they put aside funds for the law’s legal defense and went to bat for the people of Maine. I was hired by the attorney general to defend the law. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. We won on some legal issues and lost on others, but the point is that Mainers benefited from the overall effort, as thousands of Mainers received discounts on the drugs they needed.

The stakes for everyday Mainers are high, and hit squarely in the pocketbook. The Maine Health Data Organization testified that if the legislation now pending had taken effect two years ago, it would have saved Mainers and state programs $3.4 million in just one three-month period.

The Legislature is working to find an evidence-based standard for identifying the rare occasions when a dramatic price increase might be driven by supply problems or economic necessity, rather than a whim to extract extra profits from a vulnerable and captive customer base.

The Attorney General’s Office has testified that the proposal is legally defensible. I encourage lawmakers to keep working hard to find a solution and not to give up in the face of threats and intimidation from those who profit from unconscionable price increases on medicines Mainers depend on.


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