by Madison Hirneisen
Lawmakers in the Virginia Senate voted Friday to advance a bill that would create a state board to conduct affordability reviews of prescription drugs – a measure that faces an uncertain future in the House.
Lawmakers voted 26-13 to advance Senate Bill 957 out of the Senate chamber and on to the House of Delegates. The bill could face an uphill battle in the House of Delegates, where Republican lawmakers voted to kill a companion measure last month.
The measure would establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board within the Department of Health with the purpose of protecting state residents “from the high costs of prescription drug products.” The five-member board composed of individuals with expertise in health care would be appointed by the governor and approved by the General Assembly.
The board would be tasked with assessing pricing information for prescription drug products and conducting affordability reviews. If the board determines through its review that a prescription drug product would lead to an “affordability challenge” or high out of pocket costs for commonwealth residents, the board would have the authority to establish an upper payment limit on the drug.
Supporters of the board argue the bill would help address the increasing costs of prescription drugs. According to an analysis from AARP, who supports the bill, the price of hundreds of drugs outpaced inflation between July 2021 and July 2022, rising nearly 32%.
The bill follows action taken through the Inflation Reduction Act, which included provisions requiring the federal government to negotiate prices for certain drugs covered under Medicare. Additionally, the act capped out-of-pocket costs for certain Medicare enrollees and limited the cost of insulin to $35 per month for Medicare patients.
Sen. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax City, the author of SB 957, told lawmakers Friday the bill would give Virginia a “means” to control the cost of prescription drugs. He noted starting next year, information about the market price of drugs will be available “because the federal government will be setting it through Medicare” as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The idea that we would not use that knowledge to save money for our taxpayers and for our citizens, particularly our senior citizens, would frankly be political malpractice,” Petersen said.
The bill received pushback on the Senate floor from Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mechleburg, who raised concern the bill could impact the state attracting pharmaceutical manufacturers and clinical trials, which he said is “incredibly competitive among states.”
“If Virginia is going to compete for these jobs in this industry do we want to enact this type of legislation that sends the wrong message to the industry?” Ruff said. “Do we need to work to control cost? Yes, of course we do. But this sends the wrong message.”
Petersen disagreed with Ruff’s argument, telling lawmakers he does not believe the bill would discourage manufacturers from coming to Virginia.
“We’re just telling them we’re not going to overpay for your product,” Petersen said.
The bill will be heard next in a House subcommittee.
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Madison Hirneisen is a staff reporter covering Virginia and Maryland for The Center Square. Madison previously covered California for The Center Square out of Los Angeles, but recently relocated to the DC area. Her reporting has appeared in several community newspapers and The Washington Times.
Photo “Prescription Bottle” by Towfiqu barbhuiya.