The latest effort to rein in sky-high drug prices was unveiled Monday by Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7 of Delran, and calls for the creation of a drug affordability board with the authority to recommend caps on the price of certain prescription drugs it finds are excessive. A second bill would require the state Department of Treasury to seek to enter into bulk purchasing arrangements for the most-frequently needed drugs of state employees and Medicaid recipients.
TRENTON — Democratic efforts to try to lower the prices of prescription drugs aren’t just happening in Washington D.C.
Here in New Jersey, lawmakers are also looking to stem the rapid rise of medication prices with state legislation, including increasing transparency and leveraging the state government’s buying power.
The latest effort to rein in sky-high drug prices was unveiled Monday by Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7 of Delran, and calls for the creation of a drug affordability board with the authority to recommend caps on the price of certain prescription drugs it finds excessive. A second bill would require the state Department of Treasury to seek to enter into bulk purchasing arrangements for the most-frequently needed drugs of state employees and Medicaid recipients.
Singleton, amid a nationwide push to try to bring down drug prices, announced he was introducing both measures during a Statehouse news conference with several health care advocates, including AARP and the progressive group, New Jersey Citizen Action.
“Certainly one should not go to the poorhouse because they simply have the misfortune of being sick. In the richest nation in the world and one of the wealthiest states that is unacceptable and simply unconscionable. So today we’re going to do something about it,” Singleton said.
The proposed affordability board is based on one created by Maryland last year and would be charged with studying the pharmaceutical distribution and payment system in New Jersey as well as the generics drug market. Once completed, the board would review individual drug prices to determine affordability. If it finds some that are not, the board will be authorized to draft a plan of action that includes possible price caps or allowing the importation of the drug from other countries.
For either action to be taken, the full Legislature must approve a concurrent resolution approving the plan or both the governor and attorney general must approve it.
The second measure would require the Division of Purchase and Property within the Department of Treasury to review all state pharmaceutical purchasing arrangements, contracts and initiatives and devise a list of drugs that could be prioritized for bulk purchasing initiatives or renegotiated prices with the manufacturers.
Singleton and others said the move is intended to better take advantage of the more than 2.5 million state workers and Medicaid recipients that are covered by state prescription benefits.
The legislation also authorizes the division to devise ways to possibly extend the bulk purchasing benefits to county and local governments, small businesses and private health plans and self-insured individuals.
The idea was originally brought up by Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, during a town hall with Singleton and Sweeney last year at Rowan College at Burlington County. She called on state government to leverage its buying power to try to drive down the cost of health care for every resident.
On Monday, Collinsgru said affordable prescription drugs should be considered a “basic human right.”
“Access should not be limited by where you live, work or how much money you make,” she said. “Increasingly pharmaceuticals are being turned into luxury items beyond the reach of the people who need them. And in the end, all the innovation in the world does us no good if people cannot afford the drugs.”
The AARP and other advocates noted that the price of drugs increased some 58% from 2012 and 2017, well above the rate of inflation for the same time period.
“Enough is enough. We cannot allow prescription drug prices to continue to skyrocket,” said Crystal McDonald, associate state director for advocacy for AARP New Jersey.
Singleton said the root causes of America’s high drug prices were complicated and that it was an oversimplification to put the blame entirely on manufacturers. But he stressed that drug makers have a key role to play in bringing down the cost.
While the proposed board would not have any representatives from pharma, the legislation also requires a larger stakeholders board be formed and include representatives from the industry and provide input on potential price controls.
“I anticipate these conversations will continue,” Singleton said of conversations he has had with pharmaceutical industry representatives.
The two bills are the latest effort by the senator to address the issue of high drug costs. He also sponsored legislation signed by the governor last week requiring the state to create a website containing the prices of various prescription drugs in order to promote transparency and increase competition.
Singleton said these new bills are intended to work in concert with that law and other state initiatives.
“It’s our hope to use collaboration, cooperation and competition to drive down costs,” the senator said.