Senate passes prescription drug bill

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(Host) The Vermont Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that backers hope will ultimately lead to lower prescription drug prices for many Vermonters. The bill includes a controversial provision that would set a maximum price for drugs sold in Vermont.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The complex bill was crafted in three Senate committees and attacks prescription drug prices on several fronts. The most controversial section of the bill deals with controlling escalating prescription drug prices. It would give the state the authority to set a ceiling price for wholesale and retail drugs.

Rutland Republican Senator John Bloomer says the inclusion of the price control program is a poison pill for an otherwise good bill. Bloomer says the state can’t legally set wholesale prices and any attempt to control retail prices would only hurt Vermont pharmacists, without saving consumers money.

In floor debate Bloomer charged the price control provision is nothing more than election year politics – an empty promise to voters.

(Bloomer) “If you start thinking you can fool your constituents, you’re undermining the credibility of this body and you’re undermining the institution of the Senate and I think that’s a shame. A shame.”

(Zind) But Chittenden Democrat Jim Leddy said by refusing to step in to control powerful pharmaceutical companies, the federal government is leaving the state no alternative but to take action.

(Leddy) “I think state after state and community after community and citizen after citizen are saying, enough is enough is enough. Will someone stand up for us? Will someone stand up to a bully? Will someone give us a voice? And we’re told, it’s politics.”

(Zind) After narrowly passing the price control amendment, the Senate voted by an overwhelming majority to send the bill on to the House.

The bill also includes a provision requiring health insurance providers to offer the same prescription drug coverage for re-imported drugs as they do for drugs purchased in this country. Re-imported drugs from Canada are considerably less expensive than their counterparts in this country.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

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