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Prescription Drug Affordability Board legislation passes Senate

Prescription drug pills in a hand.
Daniel Foster
Prescription drug pills in a hand.

Bills to put a check on medication pricing passed the Michigan Senate Wednesday.

The legislation would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to create upper payment limits on certain medicines.

Senator Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) is a package co-sponsor. She said the issue of high drug costs has gone on for too long.

“The reality is we have to do something, and we would love for Congress to act in a very big way. But in that absence, it’s incumbent upon the states to take action and this is our first best shot at trying to get a handle—get our arms around this problem,” McDonald Rivet said.

Each of the three bills in the package passed the Senate along party-line votes. Ahead of voting, a handful of Republican lawmakers voiced their opposition and concerns.

Senator Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) said he doesn’t believe price controls work.

“How would it be if we simply decided let’s control food prices? Because that’s essential. Why are we picking one thing and not another? Because we understand the failed argument is there,” McBroom told the Senate.

Another Republican Senator mentioned he agreed with the intent of the bills but felt it was an issue for the federal government to tackle, not a hodgepodge of states.

A handful of other states, including Maryland, Colorado, and Ohio already have their own drug affordability board laws.

They’ve been slow to get off the ground. Maryland, for example, passed its law in 2019. But its affordability board is just now conducting its first cost reviews.

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp) said he doesn’t believe Michigan’s bills would be effective.

“They’re simply a copy and paste from other states that haven’t seen any real savings for patients in any of them that have passed this,” Nesbitt said during a floor speech.

Nesbitt added he felt setting price limits on expensive medications could potentially jeopardize availability of those medicines. That’s been a discussion point in Colorado.

But sponsors of the legislation said Michigan’s board would be different from other states.

“We’re not Maryland. I mean we’re our own state. We’ll have our own board, we’ve got a different agenda. There are some similarities but it’s not going to be identical. Give it a chance,” Senator Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe) told reporters after the vote Wednesday.

Klinefelt and the other sponsors are dismissing the rhetoric over drug shortages and adverse effects as scare tactics and talking points borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry.

PhRMA, the industry’s lobbying group, has derided the bills as not addressing the root causes of high drug costs.

Meanwhile, Senator Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) said the idea of creating an affordability board is gaining popularity for a reason.

“When you have a nationwide coalition of states who are now going after transparency, as well as the cost of prescription medicines, we know that this is going to be something that is effective,” Camilleri said.

Under the bills, the governor would appoint all five members of the board with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Though appointees would have to have some expertise in economics, health policy, or medicine, members of the drug manufacturing industry and former lobbyists would be prohibited from serving.

Separately, the legislation would also create a stakeholder advisory panel to help the board make decisions. That panel would be made up of 21 members, representing a variety of interests.

The package would require the affordability board to choose at least one drug to review within 18 months of forming.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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