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Stabenow bills will help reduce cost of prescription drugs

The high cost of prescription drugs is a problem our elderly citizens don’t need, but it’s one that’s been growing more painful in recent years.

Gag orders are something we’re more familiar with in court battles, but similar situations are occurring behind pharmacy counters across the country.

Known as “gag clauses,” these contractual stipulations bar a pharmacist from disclosing information to customers regarding lower cost options when purchasing prescriptions. For example, a customer might be able to purchase a drug for $20 by using cash at the pharmacy, but the same drug might cost $25 through the customer’s insurance plan.

These gag clauses prohibit pharmacists from disclosing information on the lower priced option and are under intense scrutiny. The clauses are viewed by some as a means of lining the pockets of pharmacy benefit managers, which act as middle-men between manufacturers, insurers and pharmacies by negotiating the prices of prescription drugs.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow said prescription drug costs have gone up 208 percent between 2008 and 2016, and she recently introduced legislation aimed at stopping the unforgiving spike in prices. The pieces of legislation are called Know the Lowest Price Act, the Empowering Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act and the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act.

Stabenow visited the Ishpeming Senior Center last week to discuss the legislation, and, collaborating with local pharmacist Tyler Jenema, advocated for lowering the prices of prescription drugs.

Stabenow told attendees at the senior center that parts of the legislation would prohibit an insurer or a pharmacy benefit manager from restricting a pharmacy’s ability to provide drug price information to patients when there is an out-of-pocket price benefit versus the cost of the drug through that patient’s insurance plan.

“This legislation would get rid of those gag laws,” Stabenow said in a recent Journal article. “Consumers should know the lowest price at the counter.”

We wholeheartedly agree. Stabenow has the right idea by stopping this practice at the federal level, but it would appear the state of Michigan can take its own approach as well, as several other U.S. states have already done so.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said as of late March a total of 35 states had already enacted or were considering legislation that would effectively block these gag clauses from being included in pharmacy benefit managers’ contracts. Michigan wasn’t on that list.

According to the NCSL’s March 30 report, 13 states had enacted such laws, but that didn’t include Michigan’s neighbor Ohio, which at the time had bills pending. The Buckeye State just passed its own regulations Wednesday.

“Needlessly charging Ohioans more for their prescriptions by keeping them in the dark is not defensible,” Ohio Department of Insurance Director Jillian Froment told The Columbus Dispatch for a Wednesday story.

We believe Stabenow is on the right track with her proposals, and we hope our federal legislators are smart enough to seriously consider it. Meanwhile, officials here in Michigan, if they aren’t already in the process, need to follow the examples of other states and draft legislation that will eliminate these gag clauses. Allowing our senior citizens, and others for that matter, to pay the right price for prescription drugs is simply the honest thing to do.

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