Democrats unveil bills to rein in prescription drug prices.

By Peter Hancock

Capitol News Illinois

Published 6:49 pm CST, Thursday, February 28, 2019

SPRINGFIELD — Democrats in the Illinois House unveiled a package of bills Wednesday they say would help control the spiraling cost of prescription drugs.

Republicans, however, are arguing that the entire issue of prescription drug costs is beyond the scope of state government, and that some of the Democrats’ proposals could actually end up costing taxpayers and making life-saving medications less available to people in the state.

The package of bills is largely based on recommendations from Families USA, a national consumer health advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., which has been working with lawmakers to develop the bills.

Those bills call for regulating some drug prices in much the same way the state regulates utility rates; taxing drug price increases that exceed the rate of inflation; requiring drug companies to disclose more information about their prices; and creating a mechanism for the state to become a licensed wholesaler of cheaper imported drugs from Canada.

“People in Illinois are being crushed by the high cost of essential medicines,” Rep. Will Guzzardi, a Chicago Democrat and sponsor of one of the bills, said during a news conference announcing the bills.

Guzzardi chairs the House Prescription Drug Affordability and Accessibility Committee, which had an informational hearing earlier in the day on the subject of prescription drug pricing and how it works.

The only person to testify at that hearing was Families USA’s Justin Mendoza, who heads that organization’s “state partnerships” program.

Mendoza laid most of the blame for spiraling prices on pharmaceutical manufacturers, who are granted long-term patents on new drugs that can prevent lower-cost generic drugs from entering the market for years; and “pharmacy benefit managers,” or PBM’s, who act as a kind of middleman between manufacturers and insurers to negotiate prices and devise “formularies” that determine which drugs the insurers will pay for, and under what circumstances.

He also said the federal government, and federal taxpayers, have a role to play because they fund much of the research that goes in to developing new drugs, even though, he argued, they don’t necessarily see a return on that investment once the drugs hit the market under a patent owned by a pharmaceutical company.