Pharma spends big as Massachusetts lawmakers review drug-pricing bills

Boston
Numerous top pharma and biotech companies have operations in Boston. (Pixabay)

State legislators in Massachusetts are preparing to review a slew of bills aimed at state-level drug pricing, and the pharmaceutical industry is opening its checkbook to fight back.

The state’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing on April 11 will examine 21 bills targeting price transparency and affordability for patients. State Sen. Cindy Friedman, the committee chair, told the Boston Herald that lawmakers will take a hard look at measures to open up drugmakers' pricing secrets and lower sticker prices for patients.

“Drugs are a huge contributor to health care costs, and it’s becoming, as many other parts of health care, more and more of a crisis in terms of people’s ability to pay for their health care,” Friedman said.

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But pharmaceutical companies aren’t taking that challenge sitting down.

In 2018, drugmakers spent more than $4 million lobbying the Massachusetts statehouse, the Herald reported. One of the biggest players in the lobbying effort, the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), told FiercePharma that the state’s push to cap prices would keep patients from getting the drugs they need.

“We oppose government price-setting proposals in the states,” spokeswoman Priscilla VanderVeer said. “Government price controls limit access to medicines for patients and they stifle new innovation.”

PhRMA itself spent $292,836 lobbying Massachusetts lawmakers in 2018, the Herald said. VanderVeer declined to comment on the group’s lobbying strategy.

RELATED: No, Massachusetts, you can't run a PBM-style Medicaid formulary, feds say

The push by Beacon Hill lawmakers is not the first attempt to give Massachusetts more control over drug pricing, just as states such as Nevada and California have done.

In 2017, Massachusetts pushed for power to use formulary negotiations to manage its drug costs, but was rebuffed by Tim Hill, then-acting director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services. The state wanted to adopt tactics similar to those used by private insurers and pharmacy benefits managers, but Hill said the plan did not meet CMS requirements that prevent Medicaid programs from managing coverage. 

State legislators also pushed for a pricing transparency bill in early 2016 that Jonathan Fleming, general partner of biotech investment firm Oxford Bioscience Partners, called “a nightmare” in a committee hearing. The bill later fizzled out in early 2017.

RELATED: Pharma's state-level pricing headache isn't going anywhere in 2018 

The state’s drug pricing battle comes as President Donald J. Trump and the pharmaceutical industry continue their impasse at the federal level.

Last May, Trump outlined a plan that would push companies to lower prices by stepping up negotiations and competition, and providing incentives to lower list prices and cut out-of-pocket costs for patients. Pharma responded with widespread price hikes in January, upping the cost of more than 250 drugs, Reuters said.

Despite that setback, federal lawmakers are pushing ahead with measures in both houses of Congress. Most recently, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., announced a Transparent Drug Pricing Act that would cap U.S. prescription drugs at the same list price as other developed nations, among other measures.

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