Md. Prescription Drug Price Gouging Law Takes Effect

by: Kristin Gray Special to the AFRO
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On Oct. 1, Maryland consumers became the first Americans to benefit from a new law that restricts generic and off-patent prescription drug manufacturers from price gouging. Last week, local leaders in Prince George’s County, Montgomery County and Baltimore stood alongside representatives from the Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition to host events in Montgomery County and Baltimore that explained the new law. Attendees at the two events included Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, Sen. Brian Feldman (D-District 15), Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Del. Cheryl Glenn (D- District 45) and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.

(Photo credit: ccpix/flickr)

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said similar events will take place throughout the state to increase awareness and bolster public support. While the current law targets generic and off-patent drugs, it does not include specialty and brand name prescriptions.

“We’re building up support next year to try to do something about brand name and specialty drugs. This was generic and off-patent. And if you go to our website you’ll find a resolution organizations can endorse to support our plan there,” DeMarco told the {AFRO}. “We want to implement this law with the attorney general, but we also want to go forward and do more and we’d love people to help us do that.”

The legislation did not come without serious pushback from the Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM), which represents the country’s manufacturers of generic and biosimilar medicines. AAM filed a federal lawsuit against Frosh and Dennis Schrader, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, calling the law unconstitutional and discriminatory because it gave the state “unprecedented powers to regulate the national pharmaceuticals market, violating the United States Constitution and posing harm to vulnerable patient communities.”

In a statement Chip Davis, CEO of AAM, said, “Rather than allow the vibrant competition in the generic drug marketplace to continue working for patients, Maryland would become the first state to reject generic competition in favor of more government regulation – of generic drugs, the only segment of health care costs that is actually declining. If this new law goes into effect, it will harm patients and our communities by reducing choice and limiting access to essential medicines that people need.”

Despite the AAM’s claims, a judge allowed the law to take effect. AAM said it will appeal the ruling in a statement.

Meanwhile, Frosh touted the law as a boon for state consumers who will have access to a broader variety of medicines. Glenn, who is also chairwoman of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus and a key advocate in creating the law, echoed Frosh’s statement.

“The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus is proud to have worked with Attorney General Frosh and the Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition to enact our life-saving prescription drug price gouging law,” said Glenn, Black Caucus chair. “We will work hard to make sure Marylanders know about the law and to build on this progress during the 2018 General Assembly Session.”

Last year the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) surveyed price trends for generic drugs and the factors affecting prescription costs. The GAO’s report showed more than 300 of the 1,441 generic drugs analyzed had at least one “extraordinary price increase of 100 percent or more” between 2010-2015. Additionally, price increases continued for at least a year and never reverted back to the original price.

Skyrocketing medicine costs and equitable healthcare treatment are particularly personal topics for Baker. The Prince George’s County executive cares for his wife, Christa Beverly, who suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s and dementia. “As a caregiver, prescription drugs are a big part of my life,” said Baker. “Each day, I see the incredible amount of money they cost my family despite having a good insurance plan,” Baker said in a statement. “I can only imagine how difficult it must be for people who are under insured or uninsured. From the beginning, this legislation was about Maryland putting people before corporate profits and making their lives better. I am so proud that we passed this law, because this is the type of legislation that people elected us to fight for.”

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