The exorbitant cost of prescription drugs is widely acknowledged, but one bill heard Tuesday would make leftover and donated drugs available to people who can’t afford to pay.
The House Health and Human Services Reform Committee approved the bill, as amended, and referred it to the House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee.
Rowan Mahon studies public health and pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, and came to Kiel last summer to advocate for the bill. She told the committee of a study that estimates long-term care facilities waste $2 billion worth of medication each year. Mahon, who also works at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, said every shift she talks to a least one patient who isn’t taking medication because they can’t afford it.
In addition, a handout from Mahon’s organization, the Public-Health Advocacy Student Alliance, brought up the environmental risk posed by large amounts of medication being dumped into the trash by long-term care facilities.
“Many LTC facilities in Minnesota specifically are mixing unwanted non-scheduled medications with coffee grounds … this is an ineffective measure which ultimately still results in detrimental environmental effects through landfills and water supply,” the handout said.
The legislation is supported by the Board of Pharmacy, and Mahon said the group helped her draft the bill.
Several amendments were passed to clean up the bill’s language. Some were technical, but one drew the scrutiny of DFL committee members.
Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) said even though she supports the bill, she was concerned about an amendment, adopted on a split-voice vote, clarifying the program was not available to people who have health insurance coverage for prescription drugs. She wondered what would happen to someone who has coverage, but their costs still keep them from buying drugs.
“I really don’t understand how it would benefit patients to be exempted from this bill if they have pharmaceutical coverage,” Liebling said.
Mahon said she did not believe the amendment needed to be included, but also understood the reasoning behind it. The repository would only have so many drugs to go around, and the amendment would help make sure only the most in need would have access, she said. However, she ultimately favored a need ranking system such as the one used by Iowa’s drug repository.
Kiel said the point of the amendment was to prevent the creation of an incentive for people to go outside of their coverage.