The Star-Herald

Maine lawmakers must stand up to Big Pharma

About 9,000 Mainers get the horrible news that they have some form of cancer every year. In 2016, one of those Mainers was a young woman in Limestone, who learned that she had breast cancer. Her reaction to the news and cost of treatment was this: “Oh, my God. I’m going to die just because I can’t afford these medications.” 

Those words are haunting, but I know they resonate with so many families and seniors across the state. The outrageous price of lifesaving medication in this country is putting the lives of our neighbors and loved ones at risk for the sake of corporate profits and Big Pharma’s shareholders. It has to end.

It’s why year after year my colleagues and I have made it our mission to do everything we can as a state to lower the cost of lifesaving medication so Maine people can finally get some relief. This year, we introduced the Making Health Care Work for Maine package, a suite of legislation designed to rein in health care costs, hold Big Pharma accountable for overnight price hikes and unsupported price increases, improve price transparency and create a lifesaving insulin safety net program. At the public hearing, we heard heartbreaking stories from Maine parents, seniors, teenagers and business owners, who were tired of being held hostage by drug companies when their lives were on the line. 

All five bills received strong bipartisan support in the Maine Legislature, but unfortunately, only three of the bills were signed into law by the governor. The governor vetoed two of the bills that could have made the biggest difference in people’s lives and were aggressively opposed by the drug companies.

The first bill — LD 1117, “An Act To Prevent Excessive Prices for Prescription Drugs” — targeted price gouging — the sudden, overnight price hikes that have often grabbed headlines like when Mylan increased the price of an EpiPen. This bill would prohibit excessive price increases for generic and off-patent prescription drugs sold in Maine. 

Drug companies would like you to think that the cost of generic medication isn’t a problem. But that’s simply not true. Between September and December of 2019, the Maine Health Data Organization identified 53 drugs that met its price increase threshold. The average price increase for these drugs was 109 percent, and the cost for these price increases was added up to roughly $3.4 million. This happened in only three months. 

The second bill — LD 675, “An Act To Protect Maine Consumers from Unsupported Price Increases on Prescription Medicines by Creating an Independent Review Process” — was introduced by Sen. Ned Claxton, a retired family physician from Auburn. It would prohibit pharmaceutical companies from raising the cost of their drugs where there is no evidence to support the increase. The overnight price hikes of prescription medication often grab headlines, but gradual unnecessary increases also put a strain on working families and seniors with fixed incomes. This is especially an issue for drugs that treat chronic or long-term illnesses.

In the middle of a public health crisis, pharmaceutical companies continued to raise drug prices. In fact, pharmaceutical companies raised the cost of 118 medications treating patients with chronic health conditions. 

Every morning, I wake up and take four different pills for my heart. This medication ensures I can go to work, whether it’s in Aroostook County or fighting for my constituents at the State House. The only reason I can afford my medication is because the people of this district placed their faith and trust in me to represent them in Augusta. So when I hear heartbreaking stories from my constituents about how they can’t afford their lifesaving medication, I can’t just sit back and not do anything about it. It’s not right and not who I am. 

Maine lawmakers have one more shot to do the right thing and override the governor’s veto when we reconvene on Monday, July 19. So if you are sick of a system that only works for the powerful and wealthy elite, not everyday people, then you need to contact your state lawmakers in both the House and the Senate. Tell them it’s time to decide whether they stand with Big Pharma or with hardworking Mainers. It’s time for elected officials to do what’s right for Mainers and put an end to sky-high prescription drug prices.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns at 287-1500 or via email at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov. 

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is Maine Senate president. He can be reached at either 207-287-1500 (office) or 207-436-0763 (cell), or via email at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

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