Twenty-one years ago, older Mainers went to Augusta to testify about how they regularly traveled to Canada to buy life-sustaining medications that they could not afford to buy at home.

The Maine Legislature responded and passed a first-in-the nation plan that required the pharmaceutical manufacturers to negotiate price discounts on prescription drugs for the most vulnerable state residents.

The law withstood legal challenges from the industry that went all the way to the Supreme Court, and today Maine Rx is a lifeline for low-income older adults and people with disabilities. But the high cost of prescription drugs is not a problem that can be solved on a state-by-state basis.

Now, in 2021, there is finally national legislation that takes on this crucial healthcare affordability issue.

The Build Back Better Plan, President Biden’s package of climate and social spending, includes a bill that would allow the U.S. government to use its market clout to negotiate more reasonable prices for some prescription drugs, just as Mainers demanded 21 years ago.

This is something that all members of Maine’s congressional delegation should get behind, but so far they have not.


Sen. Susan Collins is not a supporter. The prescription drug plan is part of a large package that had to be put together to avoid obstructionist tactics by Senate Republicans, including Collins, who abuse the filibuster rule to create a minority veto on legislation. If the government gets the authority to bargain the price of prescription drugs – as is done in every country in the developed world – it will be despite the Republicans, not with them.

And 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, has continued to obstruct the Build Back Better plan in the House, signing on to a letter last week demanding a delay that could scuttle the bill while he waits for information about its costs.

But the package is paid for with tax increases on the wealthy, and the prescription drug portion saves the government money, unlike the deficit-financed infrastructure bill that he has been cheerleading.

Waiting around for accounting on the whole package risks blowing an opportunity that Maine people have been demanding for more than two decades. If Republicans take control of one or both houses of Congress next year, that opportunity will be lost, perhaps for another 20 years.

Fortunately, the other members of the congressional delegation know what’s at stake.

First District Rep. Chellie was an original sponsor of the Maine Rx bill in 2000, and is a supporter of the Build Back Better package.

So is Sen. Angus King, who, as Maine’s independent governor, signed the bill into law back at the start of the century.

Too much coverage has focused on the cost of the package – $1.75 trillion over a decade – and not enough about what’s in it.

Mainers should know that a law that would lower prescription drug costs is in the package, and they should know who is standing in its way.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.