State Action to Stem Rising Prescription Drug Costs

By Association for State and Territorial Health Officials Staff

The high cost of prescription drugs is a persistent problem in the United States, with about 10 percent of overall health spending attributed to prescription drugs. In recent years, there has been increased interest among states to address the rising cost of prescription drugs. Just this year, 24 states passed 37 bills to stem rising drug costs. In total, state legislatures have introduced 160 bills targeting prescription drug costs in 2018.

States have pursued a wide range of strategies to tackle the high cost of prescription drugs, including policies that address drug price transparency, rate setting requirements to prevent price gouging, drug importation programs, generic drugs companies, and pharmacy benefit manager transparency.

 

Drug Price Transparency

Controlling healthcare costs is one of the three elements of the Triple Aim, along with improving population health and patient care experience. As a first step toward controlling costs, states are seeking more price transparency requirements from drug manufacturers. In 2018, six states passed legislation addressing drug price transparency. Many of these laws adopt more stringent transparency policies requiring drug manufacturers to justify price increases over certain thresholds. For example, Connecticut requires drug manufacturers to justify price increases for specific drugs if the price increases by 20 percent or more in a year or 50 percent over three years.

 

Price-Gouging and Rate Setting Requirements

Anti-price gouging and rate setting requirements use information collected from transparency laws to allow states to impose penalties for excessive drug price increases. Currently, Maryland is the only state with an anti-price gouging law. The policy allows the state Medicaid agency to notify the state’s office of the attorney general when an essential off-patent brand name drug or generic medication has an excessive price increase.

Maryland’s attorney general can then request justification from manufacturers for the price increase. If the rationale of the price increase is deemed unjustified by “the cost of producing the drug, or the cost of appropriate expansion of access to the drug to promote public health,” the state can impose civil penalties or use other mechanisms to penalize the manufacturer. However, a lawsuit has since been filed in federal court by drug manufacturers asserting violations of Constitutional law as it relates to interstate commerce. To date, twelve other anti-price gouging bills have been introduced in states, although none have been enacted.

 

Drug Importation

Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state to pass a drug importation bill, allowing the state to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada for use by all state residents. The law requires the designation of a state agency to become a licensed drug wholesaler, or to contract with a licensed drug wholesaler. Several steps remain before Vermont’s program can go into effect, including the state health department receiving federal approval from HHS by July 2019. In addition, although the Utah legislature failed to pass a bill that would have created a program for importing drugs from Canada, the legislature requested that the Utah Department of Health conduct a feasibility study associated with drug importation.

 

Generic Drugs

Recently, Maine passed a law requiring brand name manufacturers to make samples of drugs available to generic drug manufacturers, with the intention of promoting competition by increasing access of information for companies developing lower-cost generic drugs. The law states that, “In order for there to be competition in the prescription drug market, developers of generic drugs and biosimilar biological products must be able to obtain quantities of the reference listed drug or biological product with which the generic drug or biosimilar biological product is intended to compete.”

 

Pharmacy Benefit Managers

Several states have passed bills regarding pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which require increased transparency and disclosure of information on drug rebates and concessions. For example, Nevada passed a law in 2017 requiring PBMs to disclose the amount of rebates received from drugs used to treat diabetes. Connecticut’s drug price transparency law also requires PBMs to provide information on rebates and other price concessions received from drug companies. Mississippi passed a law preventing PBM gag clauses, which stop pharmacists from sharing information with patients on lower-cost drug options.

 

Other State Policies

In Montana, the legislature passed a bill establishing an interagency committee to study state drug pricing and spending trends, which will make recommendations to the state legislature on drug pricing policies in late 2018. In addition, New York implemented an annual cap on drug spending in its Medicaid program. Under the law, if spending projections extend beyond the cap, the state health department must identify the costliest drugs and attempt to negotiate additional rebates with manufacturers. This law also gives the state the authority to develop an independent panel that can penalize manufacturers through various mechanisms.

 

Future Opportunities

Emerging state legislation to address the rising cost of drug prices in demonstrates potential paths forward to address drug prices at the state level. The National Academy of State Health Policy (NASHP) has developed model legislation to address drug price transparency, drug importation, rate setting, and pharmacy benefit managers. The NASHP resource includes model legislation for states, bill text from states that have already passed legislation, and relevant briefing documents.