Dems to Stop Big Pharma From Gouging Michiganders for Drugs

By Kyle Kaminski

October 6, 2023

Senate Democrats approved bills to curb the cost of prescription drugs in Michigan. Now, legislation to create a new “Drug Affordability Board” is headed to the state House.

MICHIGAN—Michigan is one step closer to establishing an independent, nonpartisan board that can hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. 

On Wednesday, the state Senate voted 20-17 on three bills that would create a “Prescription Drug Affordability Board,” which would work to identify which drugs carry the most obscene price tags in Michigan, and wield the authority to then set price caps on the worst offenders.

The overarching goal of Senate Bills 483485—first introduced last month by Sens. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City), and Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe)—is simple: Lower prescription drug costs for all Michiganders and ensure nobody is forced to choose between feeding their families and their health.

“This is an issue that’s only getting worse, and it’s time to act,” Camilleri said in a statement. “With passage in the Senate, we’re one critical step closer to establishing a Prescription Drug Affordability Board and ensuring equitable access to vital medications for every Michigander.” 

If approved in the House, the legislation would create a new, five-member board appointed by the governor. The board would carry the regulatory authority to review and set specific “upper payment limits” on the prices paid for every prescription drug in the state—though officials plan to start with the most expensive, commonly used drugs like insulin.

Officials said the board will play a critical role in identifying cost-saving opportunities, as well as bring more accountability, oversight, and transparency to the prescription drug industry, and pry loose the monopolistic grip that pharmaceutical companies have on Michiganders.

“Too many Michiganders are priced out of their own health,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said in a statement this week. “It can be challenging enough to deal with a life-changing diagnosis and adding enormous medication bills on top of that stress can be unbearable. … We’re taking action to change that. The Prescription Drug Affordability Board can make the system work better for everyone and reduce financial barriers to wellness.”

Recent surveys show about 27% of Michigan adults cut their pills in half, skip doses of medicine, or do not refill their prescriptions because of the rising cost of their medications. Meanwhile, many pharmaceutical giants have reported sharp increases in their annual profits.

A 2017 study reportedly found that one in four patients with diabetes used less insulin than prescribed due to rising costs. Four years later, the Yale Diabetes Center again found that about 1.3 million Americans rationed insulin due to the high cost.

“This vote was a big win for patients, seniors and families and anyone battling illness,” said Dr. Eric Sullivan, chair of the Access to Affordable Care Impact Area at Doctors for America. “This was a vote for transparency, accountability and ensuring Big Pharma is responsive to patients who have not been able to afford the life-saving medications they’ve needed for so long.”

Prescription Drug Affordability Boards—or PDABs—are a relatively new form of oversight, independent of state government, and usually appointed by governors. Maryland was the first state to pass legislation to create a PDAB in 2019. At least six other states have followed suit.

The regulatory authority of PDABs vary by state, and some wield more power than others. Lawmakers said Michigan’s board would operate similarly to those in Colorado and Washington, which can set limits on how much patients in their state can pay for certain prescription drugs.

PDABs in those states can’t restrict how much manufacturers charge for drugs, but can instead limit how much pharmacies and wholesalers can pay for them—which ultimately ensures that out-of-pocket costs for patients in their respective states are limited. 

Michigan lawmakers expect the bills to pass through the House before the end of the year, allowing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to appoint board members who would start reviewing the priciest drugs in 2024. The bills also call for the creation of a 21-member advisory committee.

“For too long, Big Pharma has price-gouged patients, forcing them to forgo their medications and needlessly suffer,” said Dr. Rob Davidson, director of the Committee to Protect Health Care. “Our senators put patients over profits, and we encourage the House to do the same.” 

Whitmer first called on lawmakers to create the independent board during a speech last month. She said it will use “evidence-based research” to help drive down costs for Michiganders, as well as hold more “bad actors” accountable for their “irrationally skyrocketing drug prices.”

Polling from Progress Michigan shows 79% of Michiganders support creating a PDAB. Several groups—including the Michigan Nurses Association, the Michigan State Medical Society, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan—have also voiced support for the recent legislation.

Republican lawmakers have largely opposed the legislation. Democratic lawmakers have said they expect the legislation will face continued pushback from the GOP, the pharmaceutical industry, and its “army of lobbyists” as it moves forward in the coming weeks.

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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