Study order dims prospects for Massachusetts drug pricing disclosure bill
BOSTON >> Lawmakers dealt a blow last week to a bill that sought to rein in rising prescription drug costs through pricing disclosure mandates, issuing an order calling for further study on the matter.
On June 2, the House-controlled Joint Committee on Health Care Financing included Sen. Mark Montigny's drug pricing bill in a study order, usually a dead end for legislation.
Montigny's bill (S 1048) would compel manufacturers of certain prescription drugs — those deemed "critical" by the state's Health Policy Commission — to maintain and report pricing information.
Bill supporters and opponents turned out for a lively hearing in April, during which Montigny said the bill would let the state and individual consumers know what they're paying for pharmaceutical products, at a time when rising health care costs account for a growing portion of the state budget.
Earlier this year, the Health Policy Commission recommended that lawmakers consider requiring greater transparency in drug pricing and rebates, after pegging pharmaceutical spending as a major driver of health care costs.
While proponents of Montigny's bill describe it as a necessary transparency measure, critics say its provisions could stifle the state's pharmaceutical industry and scare away investors.
"In a nutshell, sending this bill to study seems to be the best result," Massachusetts High Technology Council executive vice president Mark Gallagher told the News Service. "We have deep concerns about it, and we will continue to have deep concerns about any bill that would be structured in that type of way and with those types of provisions. At minimum, a proposal like this needs a lot more consideration and analysis."
On Monday, the Joint Rules Committee sent the study order to the Senate Committee on Rules, which Montigny chairs. Supporters of the legislation hope that move will at least keep the bill alive.
"We understand that leaves an opportunity for the Rules Committee to take further action on the bill," said Brian Rosman, the government relations director at Health Care for All. "We're still hopeful that this advances during the legislative session. We think it's important for consumers and state government to have a better understanding of drug pricing."
Massachusetts Association of Health Plans President Lora Pellegrini said her organization is still hoping for "positive action" for the bill.
"Massachusetts needs to be on the forefront of understanding pharmaceutical costs," she said.
The Boston Globe reported Tuesday, from the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization Convention in San Francisco, that other states are looking to efforts Massachusetts has taken to combat climbing drug prices, including Montigny's bill. On Twitter, Globe reporter Robert Weisman said the "issue rages" at the convention.
Montigny did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Formal sessions end for the year on July 31, leaving a shrinking window for controversial bills to advance through the Legislature to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk.
In April, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told reporters that he and Baker had been discussing issues around drug pricing for "a little over a year."
"There are a number of possible solutions to the problem," Rosenberg said. He added, "I say we don't take anything off the table until we have a plan that we believe is workable that will bring down the costs of pharmaceuticals for Massachusetts consumers."
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