State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, flanked by VCU student Jenaya Moore and Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, outlines a proposal for a Prescription Drug Affordability Board on Jan. 10, 2023, in Richmond. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)
With many medication prices rising faster than inflation, Democrats in both the House and Senate are proposing that Virginia create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board with the power to review and set upper payment limits on certain drug prices.
“Prescription drug costs have been spiraling out of control for years,” said Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City. “We all know it. … We also know that the model that we have for delivering medications is very tilted towards the suppliers, and it really extracts a lot of resources away from people that have very few resources.”
The proposal is Petersen’s second effort to create an affordability board after he withdrew a similar bill during a committee review last year, saying he hadn’t garnered enough support. Such boards have been created in seven states to date, with Maryland pioneering the idea in 2019.
Whether Democrats can drum up enough votes this year isn’t clear as the legislative session prepares to begin Wednesday. Petersen said Tuesday that he had spoken about the proposal with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has repeatedly aired concerns about rising consumer and energy costs, “and he didn’t say no.”
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter did not immediately respond to a question about Youngkin’s stance on the bill. House Republican Caucus spokesperson Garren Shipley noted Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, has also filed legislation that aims to reduce prescription drug prices by requiring consumer medication costs to be reduced in line with rebates carriers expect to receive from drug manufacturers.
Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax, chief patron of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board proposal in the House, said while the extent of Republican interest is still being gauged, “where we do have bipartisan support is within the community.”
Advocates for the measure point to data showing steep rises in prescription drug costs in recent years.
“Between 2015 and 2019, the average increase in the annual cost of prescription drugs rose by 26.3%, while the average income in Virginia increased by only 16.7%,” wrote the Commonwealth Council on Aging in a September report to Youngkin and the General Assembly that also identified the creation of an affordability board as one of its legislative priorities.
Nationwide, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis published last February found drug price increases outstripped inflation for half of all medications covered by Medicare in 2020. And a report from the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration this September found over 1,200 drug products had cost increases between July 2021 and July 2022 that exceeded the period’s 8.5% inflation rate, with an average price increase of almost 32%.
“The poster child for runaway inflation is the prescription drug,” said Jared Calfee, associate state director for AARP Virginia, which for a second year is backing the legislation. “The price of these medications has skyrocketed, dwarfing even the highest rates of inflation.”
Calfee said those rising costs have forced difficult choices for many Virginians, pointing to a survey that found roughly one in four people in the state have stopped taking prescribed medications due to cost. That survey was conducted by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University in August 2021 and included 800 Virginia registered voters aged 18 and older.
Under the Petersen-Delaney proposal, the five-member Prescription Drug Affordability Board would be appointed by the governor, with members prohibited from being “an employee of, a board member of, or a consultant to a manufacturer or trade association for manufacturers.”
The board would be required to meet publicly at least four times per year and would have the authority to conduct affordability reviews of four categories of prescription drugs. Additionally, the board would vote on whether to impose payment limits on those drugs that have “led or will lead to affordability challenges for the health care system in the commonwealth or high out-of-pocket costs for patients.”
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