OR Lawmakers Look at Pharma

In 2018, HB 4005 bill was passed with the intent to provide transparency of the pricing of pharmaceuticals. But that bill, as well as Senate Bill 889 from 2019, did not go far enough to cap the drug prices, and therefore curb undue profit by the drug manufacturing companies coming at the expense of public health. 

This legislative session, several bills on pharmaceuticals have been proposed in the House with the goal of providing Oregonians with more affordable drugs via the state government controlling the prices. In a year with the spotlight on COVID-19 and by extension on healthcare costs, the bills are meeting with strong support from healthcare providers and heavy opposition from the pharmaceutical industry.  

In 2021, Senate Bill 844 outlines new duties of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board as a setter of the drug price ceiling. The bill also proposes creating a review council to scrutinize prices of brand-name and generic drugs which exceed certain limits. The council will include representatives from consumer advocacy groups, hospitals, insurers, drug manufacturers, and coordinated care organizations managing Medicaid members. The bill also will prohibit health care providers from billing patients for a medication beyond the limit set by the board.  

Additionally, Senate Bill 764 revises the way generic drugs enter the market by preventing the generic drug manufacturers from accepting payment from the patent holding manufacturer in exchange for delaying the arrival of the generic version on the market. 

Also this year, House Bill 2623 would cap insulin costs. The bill recognizes the life-saving quality of this affordable drug as upward of 435,000 Oregonians were diagnosed with diabetes since 2018. Similar bills have become a law in 15 other states.  

Senate Bill 763 would require pharmaceutical sales representatives who sell products to healthcare providers to register with the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. In light of $20.3 billion spent on marketing in the country in 2016, with $18.5 billion spent to market directly to healthcare professionals, this bill has received strong support from consumer advocates as well as Kaiser Permanente, which reportedly limits the access of sales representatives to their clinics.  

Dr. Sean Jones of Kaiser Permanente wrote in submitted testimony, “But marketing goals can conflict with what’s best for patients. … Indeed, the goal of pharmaceutical marketing is to increase revenue on the drug, which can create incentives to divert from the evidence to drive-up sales or promote higher price drugs when more affordable, equally effective options are available.” 

Predictably, the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America argues that the marketing-related conversation with providers are already regulated. 

By Joanna Rosińska