Maine Democratic lawmakers are proposing a suite of bills that will attempt to rein in the cost of prescription drugs and lower health care costs.

Lawmakers, including Senate President Troy Jackson, held a news conference Tuesday to roll out the five bills, two of which are designed to prohibit price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. The Maine Attorney General’s Office would review drug price increases and halt the increases if prescription prices skyrocket for certain drugs.

Maine is one of at least 18 states that has prescription drug price-gouging laws on the books or under consideration, including Massachusetts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The most comprehensive and effective price-gouging laws are in Massachusetts, New York and Maryland, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Health Care Policy and Law.

Senate Republicans are so far declining to weigh in on the bills, said Tom Desjardin, spokesman for the Senate caucus.

During the media briefing, Jackson said that he’s heard too many stories of Mainers who are priced out of their prescription drugs, or have to make difficult choices between rationing drugs, buying groceries or getting behind on their bills.

“No one should have to live like this,” Jackson said. “We know too many Mainers who live this reality.”

Susan Kinney of Belgrade said at the media briefing that her adult daughter, Marissa, has Crohn’s disease, and the medication is expensive, costing them thousands of dollars every month out-of-pocket. Kinney said her daughter is on a low dose now, but she could need a higher dose in the future.

“We are fortunate the medicine is working,” Kinney said. “But if the dose increases, so does the cost, by thousands of dollars.”

Retail prescription drug spending in the United States rose from $298 billion in 2014 to $369.7 billion in 2019, a 24 percent increase, according to federal statistics. And there have been some high-profile examples of out-of-control price increases, such as EpiPen, a common allergy medication, going from $100 in 2009 to $600 in 2016.

Jasmine Gossett, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade association, said that the group agrees that “health care should be more affordable for Mainers.”

“Unfortunately, this package overlooks what’s contributing to the challenges families are facing, like their rising out-of-pocket costs because of a broken insurance system,” Gossett said. She said the bills are “filled with dangerous ideas that could make it harder for patients to get the medicines they need” by threatening “crucial innovation” in the pharmaceutical industry.

The price gouging bill by Jackson would trigger a review by the Attorney General’s Office if a drug price increased by more than $30 for a 30-day prescription of a generic drug, or for non-generic drugs the prices increased by at least 15 percent when compared to the wholesale acquisition costs of the drugs.

A bill by Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, would require drug manufacturers to justify prescription drug price increases or pay a fine. Claxton said his bill, paired with the price gouging bill, would give drug companies “an extra hoop to jump through.”

“To try to corral pharmaceutical prices we need a multitude of different approaches,” Claxton said.

Another bill would establish the Office of Affordable Health Care, which would study why health care costs increase, and offer policy solutions to lawmakers based on its findings.

A bill by state Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, modeled after a law in Minnesota, would mandate that those without insurance or who can demonstrate that they have trouble paying for insulin be able to purchase an emergency 30-day supply for $35. And a bill by state Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, would mandate more transparency in how drug companies price medications.

This is the second major push by Democrats to try to control the cost of prescription drugs in Maine, following a series of bills that were signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills in 2019.

Jackson said that while those bills have had some success, more needs to be done.

One of the laws approved in 2019 would allow for wholesale importation of drugs from Canada, but a federal waiver to do so has yet to be approved. Another law that capped the price of insulin at $100 per month was helpful, said Breen, but some have difficulties affording $100 per month.

“This bill is about saving lives in Maine right now,” Breen said.

Lindsay Crete, a spokeswoman for Mills, said the governor is evaluating the bills, and “appreciates their commitment to addressing the important issue of health care.” The bills will be up for a public hearing at 10 a.m. on March 30 before the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee.


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