Prescription drug pricing program steps forward in Legislative Assembly

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Four bills to reduce the price of prescription drugs, three of which are part of a package backed by Governor Phil Murphy, were approved today by the Assembly Health Committee after several months in the limbo and several hours of commentary from business and progressive groups.

In February, Murphy unveiled a set of prescription drug proposals, including bills authorizing the Department of Community Affairs to collect and aggregate annual drug price data; creating transparency requirements for pharmaceutical benefit managers; and requiring insurers to cover EpiPens and asthma inhalers.

A separate bill to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB), tasked with “protecting New Jersey residents, state and local governments, health insurance plans, health care providers, pharmacies and other stakeholders… high costs of prescription pharmaceuticals,” also appeared before the committee. Unlike the other three bills, it’s unclear whether Murphy and other Democratic leaders fully support efforts to create such a council.

The four bills had already been approved by the Assembly’s Financial Institutions Committee in March and were sent to the Health Committee for a second reading; their equivalents in the Senate, meanwhile, await second reading in the Senate Budget Committee.

“Transparency shines a light on drug prices and holds manufacturers accountable for increases or high prices for new prescriptions,” said MP John McKeon (D-West Orange), one of the main sponsors of each of the bills, in a press release. “Pharmacy benefit managers were created as intermediaries to cut costs, but a lack of transparency has allowed them to operate virtually unchecked… This legislative package would help address that problem.”

The PDAB proposal drew praise at today’s hearing from a number of progressive groups, who said it would strengthen the state’s ability to rein in drug prices on order and hold bad actors accountable.

“The only way to fully understand drug pricing and control patient costs is [by establishing] independent, neutral advice on prescription drug accessibility,” said Laura Waddell of New Jersey Citizen Action. “With a comprehensive analysis of the entire pharmaceutical supply chain, the Council would sift through all the noise to hold all players accountable so no one gets a free pass.”

However, trade and pharmaceutical groups criticized the bill and said it would do little to reduce drug costs; Joining them in opposition was Sarah Yourman Tota, a chronically ill participant who expressed fears that over-regulation could prevent the development of life-saving drugs like the ones she uses.

“I am very concerned that the Prescription Drug Affordability Board…could undermine the development of new life-saving and life-changing drugs like the one that helped me manage and treat my complications from cystic fibrosis,” said Yourman Tota. “Without the discovery of new drugs, patients with rare diseases of the future will be left with far fewer options for a cure.”

Representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, alongside several Republican lawmakers, have also expressed discomfort with the bill requiring the reporting of drug pricing data to the Department of Community Affairs.

“This legislation may be too burdensome when weighed against the benefits it would have,” Assemblyman Brian Rumpf (R-Little Egg Harbor) said. “I would argue that there may be better uses for almost a million dollars of state money than creating additional anti-competitive red tape for New Jersey businesses.”

Somewhat surprisingly, several progressive witnesses who supported the PDAB proposal also spoke out against the price reporting bill, arguing that it was a toothless measure that would divert resources from the most vulnerable areas. more valuable.

“We really urge this committee to reject this bill and direct the financial resources of the state toward the creation of the PDAB,” said Renée Steinhagen of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center. “We think [it is] a misguided bill that, in our view, was introduced and supported by the administration solely to sabotage serious legislative efforts to address the issue of prescription drug affordability.

Both the PDAB Bills and the Drug Price Reports were finally approved by an 8 to 4 vote, while the EpiPen and Inhaler Bill passed unanimously and the pharmacy business manager bill received three abstentions from Republican lawmakers.

After the four-hour meeting ended, Assembly Health Chairman Herb Conaway (D-Delran) hinted that the PDAB proposal may be lower priority in the future, although he has noted that his success on committees so far indicates that he has some support. legislative leadership.

“I wholeheartedly support these measures, I think the governor is leading us in the right direction on this,” Conaway said. “Our work is not done and we don’t have to do everything at once. I’m very confident that the three bills in the Governor’s package will quickly land on his desk, and we’ll see what else happens over time.


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