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An influential health care advocacy coalition announced Monday that it will focus next year on an effort to expand a nascent state agency’s authority to lower prescription drug prices.
Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition, said during an afternoon webinar that expanding the authority of the Maryland Prescription Drug Affordability Board will be the group’s primary legislative effort in the 2024 General Assembly session, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 10.
The board’s current authority only covers prescription drugs under state and local government health care plans; health advocates have long hoped that any medication costs successfully lowered under that purview would naturally expand to private insurers.
Expanding the board’s authority to implement broader cost controls was part of a larger discussion Monday about ways state and federal elected officials in Maryland are working to bring down out-of-pocket medication prices and reduce overall health care costs.
Other speakers at the event were U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) and AARP State Director for Maryland Hank Greenberg, who are supportive of additional measures to reduce prescription drug costs.
“We’re going to work with you closely as well as all the partners to build on this success by supporting legislation to expand the board’s authority in the upcoming 2024 Maryland General Assembly session,” Greenberg told DeMarco during the webinar. “It’s the most important thing that we need to do to make sure everyone benefits from the work that they’re doing right now.”
The affordability board’s task to reduce drug prices goes hand-in-hand with federal efforts. Provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act place price caps on insulin at $35 for those on Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for retirees. In addition, Medicare can now negotiate the costs of high-price prescription drugs, and recently announced 10 medications that will go under the first round of price-lowering negotiations.
But the state board is still working out details on how exactly to bring down the costs of drug prices for government employees, and it is still not clear when or if Marylanders will see broader cost savings or even which drugs are in consideration.
The Prescription Drug Affordability Board was created by the General Assembly in 2019. The board has been slow to begin operating, due in part to former Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto, amid pandemic-induced economic uncertainty in 2020, of a bill that would have funded the board’s initial work.
Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed additional legislation this year that reaffirms the board’s authority to issue upper payment limits and extends deadlines from the earlier law. In addition, the General Assembly carved out an additional $1 million in the 2024 state budget for the board’s operations.
In July, the board approved a loose framework on how drug costs will be evaluated, but there are still some administrative procedures and a 30-day comment period before the rule is activated.
Earlier Monday, the board gathered virtually to walk through some of the options on how they would set so-called “upper payment limits” for government health plans.
Andrew York, executive director of the Drug Affordability Board, was also on the Health Care for All webinar to discuss the board’s efforts to date. He said he hopes the board will have the price review process “live by the end of the year.”
York urged Marylanders who are struggling to afford their prescription drugs to reach out to the board and share their challenges.
When asked about the timing of working to expand the board’s authority while it’s is still setting up its initial price review, DeMarco said an expansion is long overdue.
“We wanted the board to have this full authority in 2019 … it was not easy for us to agree to a compromise that only allowed the board to have the authority to state and local government,” he said, responding to a question from Maryland Matters. “I think it is long overdue for the board to have full authority.”