Bill aimed at lowering prescription drug prices advances

January 17, 2019

CHARLESTON — A bill aimed at reducing prescription drug costs in West Virginia passed through the House of Delegates’ Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday, but it will face the House Judiciary Committee before heading to the floor for a full vote.

Sponsored by Del. Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, HB 2319 would allow the Bureau for Medical Services to design and establish a wholesale prescription drug importation program using Canadian suppliers.

The program would need to have a process to sample the purity, chemical composition and potency of the imported products, and only import prescription drugs expected to generate substantial savings for West Virginians.

It would also need to comply with federal law and be approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The bill as presented is model legislation, legislation that has successfully been enacted elsewhere,” Bates said. “It’s an attempt and effort to try and do something about this problem. I think it’s important we direct the agency to do this, not just to the Medicaid population but also our seniors, those people on PEIA as well as commercial carriers.”

The bill is modeled after legislation in Vermont, the only U.S. state to enact drug importation legislation. It still faces hurdles, namely from HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who came out against drug importation last year, calling it a gimmick that doesn’t work.

However, according to a story from Morning Consult, Azar said Tuesday at a Council for Affordable Health Coverage event that the Food and Drug Administration was looking into how safe importation of drugs from abroad could inject competition and help lower prices of some prescription medications that have seen price spikes. Experts took this as a signal he may be changing his mind on the issue.

West Virginia delegates had concerns Tuesday, particularly because the bill did not come

with a fiscal note estimating how expensive implementing such a program would cost.

Del. Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, spoke against the bill, citing a report saying Vermont’s program might cost more than any savings it would see in drug prices.

“I understand, having some elderly people in my family, the need for lower drug prices, and I understand the intent of this bill. I just don’t think this is the answer that we have right now,” Worrell said. “And at the same time, my district is in the middle of a lawsuit against some of the drug manufacturers that have pumped drugs into our state, and that is another fear that I have.”

Del. Jim Butler, R-Mason, also voted against the bill, citing the many unknowns, from cost to where Canadian sellers get the pharmaceuticals.

Del. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, amended the bill to make starting the program permissible, not a directive. He said he wants the bureau to be able to prove it would be effective before creating new bureaucracy. That amendment passed.

“I understand there are a lot variables that need answered, and that’s why I offered my amendment,” Wilson said. “What I would like to see is this progress to Judiciary and see what goes on there. We need to study a lot of the elements, but the idea behind this is excellent. It’s a free-market opportunity.”

In the end, the bill passed the committee but is being referred to House Judiciary, where it will face more scrutiny.

The HHR Committee also passed a bill that would make it illegal to smoke in an enclosed motor vehicle with a child under the age of 8.

Sponsored by Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and co-sponsored by Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, the bill would make it a secondary offense, meaning a person could not be pulled over for smoking but if pulled over for a violation such as speeding, they could be charged. The fine would be $25.

The bill also will head to the Judiciary Committee.

The committee laid over a bill that would require DHHR to modernize Jackie Withrow Hospital and Hopemont State Hospital in the Beckley area to provide long-term substance abuse treatment. The bill was laid over after DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch adamantly objected to the bill, saying it was based on a false report of staffing issues.

Crouch also warned the committee against the state getting into the substance use disorder treatment business and said new data suggests long-term treatment may not be the best approach for recovery, saying the state may end up with too many beds.

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