Pharmacists oppose Senate drug pricing bill

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(Host) The Vermont Senate is set to debate legislation later this week that would establish price controls for many prescription drugs if costs continue to skyrocket. However the bill is being strongly opposed by the Vermont Pharmacists Association.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Jim Leddy, is who the prime sponsor of the bill, says the proposal is needed because the cost of many popular drugs has increased between 50 and 75 percent over last percent years.

The legislation is modeled after a plan in Maine that allows the state to set price levels that “are reasonably comparable” to the lowest prices that are charged by any government program in the state. The price control provision would go into effect only if retail prices continue to increase by double digit amounts.

Leddy says it’s critical for the state of Vermont to act on this bill because it’s clear that the federal government is not dealing with this issue:

(Leddy) “We are all held hostage by a predatory industry and it has to end. Enough is enough. Our federal government has essentially abandoned us and is offering no protection.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Pharmacists Association announced on Monday that it’s opposing the bill because the group believes major pharmaceutical companies will simply ignore it on the grounds that it’s illegal for an individual state to interfere with interstate commerce. Anthony Otis is the chief lobbyist for the organization:

(Otis) “This particular proposal for state price controls will not work. And the reason it doesn’t work is that the sale of the whole goods – that is, the drug products – are based on an out-of-state contract. And they can’t regulate [that]. Under principles of interstate commerce law, this state can’t regulate that business conduct outside of the state. The only person they’re going to be able to regulate is Burlington Drug and retailers. If we can’t get a price that the state sets, what’s to do?”

(Kinzel) The Pharmacists also say the Vermont legislation will have very little impact on the national debate because the state’s share of the overall pharmaceutical market is so small. Senator Leddy has a very different viewpoint:

(Leddy) “And I assure you that if Vermont stands up as Maine has, we will not be alone. Other states will follow. There is brewing a national rebellion against what is totally out of control and we have been granted no protection by our national government and frankly the states are going to act.”

(Kinzel) The legislation is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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