General Assembly seeks transparent drug pricing

April 13, 2018

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican American

HARTFORD – State lawmakers are making a bipartisan push to pass legislation to make drug prices more transparent against resistance from insurance and pharmaceutical interests.

Supporters are trying to build momentum and a big enough coalition to get the drug pricing bill through the sharply divided House and Senate before the General Assembly adjourns its 2018 session on May 9.

“I think we’re getting close,” said Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, the House chairman of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee. “I don’t think we’re there yet, but we have four and a half weeks to go in the session, and I am confident we can get there.”

Senate Republican Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, and Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, have been working together on the legislation. Fasano was also cautiously optimistic Thursday.

The legislation proposes to trigger a state review when wholesale drug prices increase 25 percent from the previous year. It would also establish a complaint process for insurers when increases exceed certain thresholds.

Other provisions impose registration and disclosure requirements on pharmacy benefit managers, and allow consumers to use a point-of-sale rebate at the pharmacy counter and see immediate relief.

A bipartisan majority of the insurance committee approved House Bill 5384 in a 16-5 vote. All five “no” votes were Republicans.

Scanlon, Fasano and other leading supporters of the drug pricing bill highlighted the results of a favorable poll that Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut released Thursday. They said the survey of 900 state residents from February found people are worried about high drug costs and strong bipartisan support for government action.

“This report proves what we already know – that the vast majority of consumers, no matter their political affiliation, demand action on prescription drug pricing reform,” said State Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

The attendees at Thursday’s news conference included lobbyists representing insurance and pharmaceutical interests that Scanlon acknowledged remain to be won over on House Bill 5384.

“This bill is a work in progress. We feel like we have made a lot of progress from where this bill began, frankly, last year when the comptroller introduced it,” Scanlon said.

Lembo said the legislation stands on the verge of passing because of the dialogue of the last year between all stakeholders.

“I don’t want to say we’re out of the woods yet, but I think everyone is working together in the spirit of cooperation, and I hope that continues, and I hope that leads to a very important piece of legislation,” he said.

The legislation will require all pharmacy benefit managers to register with the state and pay an annual $50 fee. PBMs will also have to submit annual financial reports that include information on prescription drug rebates and administrative fees.

The bill sets up a process for insurers to file complaints when the cost of a prescription drug increases by 25 percent or more, and the increase raises a plan’s per member per month premium by more than $1.

It also requires managed care organizations to certify to the state insurance commissioner that they pass the majority of a prescription drug rebate on to the consumer