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Minnesota Legislature

With drug prices stretching patients thin, lawmakers pitch commission to help control prices

As a physician, Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL-Deephaven) encounters the high costs of drugs every day. A new drug for muscular dystrophy, for example, costs about $300,000 annually. A new bladder cancer drug: $12,500 per month.

“Minnesotans are struggling to afford the medicine they need,” she told the House Commerce Committee Wednesday.

Sponsored by Morrison, HF3328 would establish a prescription drug affordability commission that could limit how much patients have to pay for certain high-cost drugs.

Approved by the committee, the bill was referred to the House Government Operations Committee. The companion, SF3120, is also sponsored by a physician, Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska), and awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

The commission could review the affordability of drugs and set maximum reimbursement levels for overly costly drugs. Drug manufacturers would have to notify the panel of new drug introductions and certain drug and biologic price increases.

Morrison compares the commission to public service commissions that regulate utilities.

Attorney General Keith Ellison said the bill is a top recommendation among 14 in a report his office released Wednesday on the “dysfunctionality” of the prescription drug market and the major causes of high drug prices. The report was the result of a task force he convened a year ago, and community meetings he held statewide.

“Attacks on the legislation on the basis of constitutionality are wrong, and you should reject these ideas because they are not well founded,” Ellison said. “I think this is a strong piece of legislation that will help Minnesotans.”

Morrison said Maryland and Maine have both passed legislation setting up similar affordability boards.

Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) questioned what kind of penalties could be levied.

“I’m just wondering if there’s a drug company CEO that could end up in jail,” he said.

It’s happened before elsewhere, Ellison said.

House Commerce Committee 2/19/20

AARP supports the bill, with State Director Will Phillips saying, “We now have drugs that are approaching a million dollars a year.”

Jessica Intermill, a small-business owner, said she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis while pregnant, and one of her drugs costs $46,000 per year.

“We never stop to ask why one drug costs $46,000,” she said, and the commission could do that.

Sharon Lamberton, deputy vice president for state government advocacy for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the bill misses the mark and recycles failed ideas.

“This law will have a chilling effect on innovation,” she said.

The commission would be comprised of seven members – three appointed by the governor, and one by each of the four legislative leaders. The commission would be assisted by an 11-member advisory council representing stakeholder views.

Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) questioned the makeup of the commission.

“This is really silencing the minority, whoever the minority is,” she said. “I’m having a hard time seeing how this doesn’t become incredibly political.”

Morrison said she’d like to think drugs costs are not a partisan issue.

“We’ve listened for years to the pharmaceutical industry talk about free markets, rebates … and the price of drugs continues to rise,” she said. “I think the people of Minnesota deserve a shot at being able to afford their medicines.”


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