As a faith leader in my community, I witness firsthand the struggles our neighbors face in accessing quality, affordable health care. These are challenging times.

We face the threat of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act in Washington.  Rising out-of-pocket costs and deductibles are making health care and medicines less affordable.  In our community, there is a need to focus on reforms that incentivize preventive medicine – encouraging people to visit their doctors and take their medicines – rather than ending up, too often, in the emergency room.

The Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr. (Courtesy Photo)

The Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr. (Courtesy Photo)

Dealing with accessibility and costs must be our highest priorities, and I applaud the Maryland Legislature for considering several pieces of legislation that attempt to address these concerns.

In predominantly African-American communities such as ours, access to prescription drugs is critical. Chronic diseases affect People of Color more than any other population. In order to maintain quality of life, patients need consistent access to their prescription medications, without the risk of having their formularies changed and treatment disrupted at any moment.  Continuity of care should be guaranteed.

In contrast, however, there is no evidence that SB 437 and its companion bill in the House, HB 666, would provide Marylanders’ relief from rising healthcare costs, and they could potentially reduce access.  It creates paperwork, not savings for patients. The bills seek to force drug manufacturers to disclose why they are raising prices for prescription drugs.

Our neighbors who suffer from chronic disease deserve new, effective treatments that will surpass previous solutions as our biohealth industry continues to innovate.

All of us can remember when HIV was considered a death sentence.  Now, it is a manageable chronic disease – as long as patients take their medicines.  This type of life-changing innovation and care is what we should be striving for – which, ultimately, lowers the cost of treatment.

I fear that forcing biopharmaceutical manufacturers into a unique, single-state regulatory system would discourage innovation here, harming Maryland’s economy and, potentially, keeping new medicines from coming to market.  Our state depends on the tens of thousands of jobs and the billions of dollars in revenue that the biohealth sector provides.

The only state to have passed similar legislation to SB 437 and HB 666 is Vermont, which essentially has no biotech industry and has much different demographics than our state.

Health care costs are a growing burden on our communities, and communities across Maryland. We need to find a comprehensive solution to improve access and really address costs to patients.  Reducing out-of-pocket costs and deductibles would be much more effective than SB 437.  So would coverage equality that requires insurance companies to cover medicines and other types of care at equal levels – rather than charging higher co-pays and deductibles for prescriptions.

I urge Maryland lawmakers to support actions that will benefit consumers, such as SB 768, the Continuity of Care bill.  And I urge them to reject SB 437 and HB 666, because the potential consequences outweigh any benefits.

The Rev. Al Hathaway is Pastor at Union Baptist Church in Baltimore, Md.