| March 15, 2020

Illinois Prescription Drug Price Cap Bill Stalls

Nqaba Matshazi

Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world. Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world.

For the second consecutive year, a law that will allow Illinois to cap the prices of drugs has failed to go past the committee stage, a development that the bill’s chief sponsor, Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, described as frustrating.

House Bill 3493 faced stiff opposition from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and its passage through the committee became even more unlikely when a Democrat sided with Republicans in ensuring that the proposed legislation stalled. The bill received eight votes, two short of the threshold needed for it to go past the committee.

Time to do something

“I think that the situation for patients who need their prescriptions in this state is dire and getting worse every day, and I would hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle could see that it’s time for us to do something. Unfortunately, they seem to be more responsive to the pharmaceutical industry than to their constituents,” Guzzardi was quoted as saying.

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Guzzardi also said that 25 percent of the people in Illinois are skipping their prescription drugs because they cannot afford them. “That is a systemic and structural problem that requires and systemic and structural solution,” Guzzardi, who also chairs the House Prescription Drug Affordability and Access Committee, lamented.

A coalition of groups known as Protect Our Care Illinois, which supported the bill, said it was disappointed by the outcome of the committee vote on the bill. The coalition said the bill would have put a check on the unbridled power of big pharma.

“The people of Illinois have made it clear that they need common-sense solutions that release them from the nocuous compromise between affording prescription drugs or other basic needs. Today, the inaction of members of the General Assembly spoke volumes by denying the people of Illinois access to affordable prescription drugs. It’s simple: prescription drugs don’t work if you can’t afford them,” Protect Our Care Illinois said in a statement following the vote.

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The coalition said recent polling data had shown that more than eight in 10 adults in Illinois said that they want the government to take decisive action on prescription drug prices, including establishing a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

What the bill entails

The bill would have seen the creation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board consisting of five members appointed by the governor with advice from the Senate. It would also have created the Prescription Drug Affordability Stakeholder Council, whose 25 members would have been appointed by the governor and each of the legislative leaders.

The Prescription Drug Affordability Stakeholder Council was to have been made up of healthcare advocates, prescription drug researchers, doctors, nurses, and pharmaceutical representatives among others. Its mandate would have been to help the Prescription Drug Affordability Board members make decisions on upper price limits for prescription drugs.

The drugs that would have had upper limits include brand name drugs that cost $30,000 or more for a year’s supply or a course of treatment, or whose wholesale price increases by more than $3,000 in a 12-month period. It was explained that other thresholds would apply to biosimilar drugs.

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Had this bill passed, the board would also have had to conduct a study of specified point of information on the operation of the generic drug market on or before June 1, 2020.

The cost of prescription drugs is a major issue in Illinois; House Democrats are pushing for a cap on the cost.

However, Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) felt that the proposed board would not function. “If this board is lucky, it can maybe get through one company’s drug and pricing information for one year if they choose to share it.”

Efforts to bring down prescription drug costs

Last year, Guzzardi said people in Illinois were being crushed by the high cost of essential medicines and that something needed to be done to curtail drug prices. He then sponsored two bills — HB 2880, described as the first-of-its-kind anti-price gouging legislation — which would fine drug manufacturers for drug price increases beyond inflation.  The other bill was HB 3493, which was meant to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

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The proposed legislation immediately faced opposition from Republicans, who felt that the Democrats were overstepping their mandate, arguing that the issue of prescription drug costs is a federal issue, going beyond the ambit of state government.

President Donald Trump has also made it no secret that he thinks the cost of prescription drugs is out of hand. In 2018, Pfizer had to delay a round of price increases after Trump tweeted that the drugmaker should be ashamed of itself.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey reported that one in four people taking prescription drugs is having trouble paying for them. The poll also showed that 50 percent of Americans support legislation to bring down the cost of prescription drugs and believe the government should prioritize such laws.


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