House Dems announce bills to lower health care, prescription costs

Pharmacist Hank Wedemeyer fills prescriptions as generic diabetes medicine awaits distribution at a community health center for low-income patients on December 1, 2009 in Aurora, Colorado. | John Moore/Getty Images

At a press conference Monday morning held at the Care Free Medical clinic in Lansing, a group of House Democrats unveiled a new Health Over Profits for Everyone (HOPE) bill package to address the costs of prescription drugs and doctor visits.

Kyra Bolden

Democrats say their 10-part package will reduce the costs of health care and hold drug companies accountable, and as a result, will make it easier for Michigan families to afford the medical care they need.

“The truth is, we all will get sick at some point in our lives,” state Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield) said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, rich, poor, Republican or Democrat. We all need to visit the doctor.”

“As of 2016, Michigan had the fifth-highest drug prices in the nation,” Bolden said — a significant statistic, as the United States as a whole spends the most on pharmaceutical drugs out of any other country in the world.

Democrats point to exorbitant prices for medicine, particularly for specialty drugs to treat rare or complex illnesses. The most infamous example was the overnight price explosion of the life-saving drug Daraprim, used to treat toxoplasmosis, which shot up from $13.50 to $750 a tablet in 2015 immediately after it was acquired by Turing (now Vyera) Pharmaceuticals. Even following massive public outcry and the resignation of former CEO Martin Shkreli (now in prison serving an unrelated wire fraud sentence), the price of Daraprim still sits at $750 per pill.

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The new House package seeks to impose a number of regulations on the pharmaceutical industry in Michigan in the hopes of preventing price spikes.

“No one should be put in the horrific position of having to choose between paying for your mortgage and getting your prescriptions,” Bolden said, adding that this problem is likely to get even worse as the cost of living increases.

State Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp.) has a bill that hasn’t been introduced that seeks to create a “prescription drug consumer protection board.” The board would require drug makers to provide justification for price increases, and penalize companies that refuse to comply.

Angela Witwer

“All of the proposals we’ve mentioned are only as good as a transparency and accountability necessary to back them up,” Witwer said. “The board would be comprised of consumer advocates, not pharmaceutical special interest groups — so if the price of your medication goes up, you’ll know why.”

There are three bills that already have been introduced:

  • HB 4943, sponsored by state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), would require health insurers to cover the full cost of medically necessary epinephrine injectors.
  • HB 4701 from state Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) would limit the co-pay amount for a 30-day supply of insulin to $100.
  • HB 4702 from state Rep. John Chirkun (D-Roseville) seeks to curb unfair trade prices by requiring Michigan’s attorney general to investigate the pricing of insulin, then create a report to recommend additional consumer protections.

Other bills involving drug costs that haven’t been introduced are:

Rep. Jon Hoadley, Oct. 7, 2019 | Laina G. Stebbins
  • A second bill from Pohutsky, which would strengthen the consumer protection law to protect citizens from price gouging by drug manufacturers
  • A bill from state Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township) to allow the importation of FDA-approved prescription drugs from Canada 
  • A resolution from state Rep. LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit) to urge both Congress and the FDA to address prescription drug shortages
  • A resolution from state Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) that would urge Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, which is currently banned by federal law

“Our health care system is broken,” said Hoadley. “… The reality is when even one person can afford their medications or health visits, that’s one person too many.”

There also is legislation that aims to decrease other health care costs. Bolden’s bill, which has not yet been formally introduced, would cap the co-pays for behavioral health visits at $5. The bill to be introduced by state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) would do the same for primary care provider visits.

Analyst: Industry, government must address prescription cost drivers

“We want to make sure we are putting Michiganders’ health and safety over profits,” said Hoadley, who did not answer directly whether Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is on board with the bill package, but said there is an “ongoing conversation” between she and House Democrats on the issue.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, civil rights, health care/safety net and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two very special cats.

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