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Lower prices, better access, stronger regulation lead prescription drug reform

2/27/2019, 7:12 p.m.
Thetimesweekly.com As a legislative committee digs into the issue, Illinois House Democrats are pushing a package of bills this spring ...

Thetimesweekly.com

As a legislative committee digs into the issue, Illinois House Democrats are pushing a package of bills this spring that aim to make prescription drugs more accessible, affordable and accountable.

Led by state Rep. Will Guzzardi, chairman of the new House Prescription Drug Affordability and Access Committee, several lawmakers discussed their proposals for prescription drug reform Wednesday at a Statehouse news conference.

Among the ideas being championed are:

  • House Bill 1441, sponsored by Rep. Anna Moeller, to create a path for Illinois to be a licensed wholesaler of imported drugs from regulated Canadian suppliers

  • HB 56 and HB 156, sponsored by Rep. Mary Flowers, to require drug manufacturers to notify health insurers, providers and lawmakers when they plan to increase prescription drug prices, and to require health insurers to disclose to the state where Illinois spends significant health care dollars on prescription drugs and which costs have increased over time

  • Legislation from Rep. Guzzardi that would create a new tax on some prescription drugs on price increases beyond inflation that cannot be passed on to consumers (HB 2880); and create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board in state government to regulate prescription drugs similar to how the state now regulates electric utilities through the Illinois Commerce Commission (HB 3493)

The meeting previewed the Committee’s ongoing work this session, including a hearing Wednesday morning with an expert from Washington, D.C., and a Chicago subject matter hearing on Friday, March 1, on insurance and drug cost impact on consumers.

Rep. Guzzardi also presented the results of statewide polling on the issue of prescription drug prices. Highlights included:

  • 27% of respondents said they or a family member had not filled a prescription in the past year because the drugs cost too much

  • 67% of people said it's "extremely important" for government to address rising drug prices — on par with issues like improving schools (71%) and reducing crime (71%) and ahead of issues like helping small businesses (54%) and lowering taxes (52%)

  • 79% of people said they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who took on this issue, including 65% of Republicans and 74% of undecided voters

Lawmakers said reining in prescription drug costs and providing easier access for consumers will not be easy, but it’s essential work to help working people across Illinois get the medications they need to stay healthy.

“People in Illinois are being crushed by the high cost of essential medicines,” said Guzzardi. “Far too many people are splitting pills or skipping prescriptions because they can’t afford them. And the cost to our state budget is out of control. Something must be done to curtail drug prices, and that’s what we intend to do in this committee.”

Moeller said her prescription drug importation proposal is one example of innovative thinking to accomplish these legislators’ access and affordability goals.

“Our neighbors to the north in Canada have understood for years now that we all win if people can receive and afford their medications,” Moeller said. “My hope is we can develop a program where Illinois can take advantage of more competitive prices and better access through the tight regulatory system in Canada, and help my constituents and people around our state get relief from our prescription drug crisis.”

Claire McAndrew also spoke at the event. McAndrew is the Director of Campaigns and Partnerships at Families USA, a national organization working to ensure that the best health and health care are equally accessible and affordable for all. “States have an important role to play in protecting residents from unaffordable prescription prices,” McAndrew said. “The General Assembly should pass the bills discussed to put an end to prescription drug price gouging and other drug company abuses in Illinois.”