Senators, state AARP praise advance of prescription drug bill

Sen. Steve Daines said a prescription drug pricing bill passed Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee will save Montanans and other taxpayers in the United States more than $100 billion for their medications.

The Montana Republican spoke to reporters shortly after the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 moved out of the committee, where it is now headed to the Senate floor. He was joined by Tim Summers, state director of AARP Montana.

Daines, who sits on the committee, said lawmakers had just passed a major, bipartisan, prescription drug pricing package.

“Today was about making life easier for Montanans,” he said. “It’s about cutting out-of-pocket costs and lowering prescription drug costs for seniors, for hardworking moms and dads, for grandmas and grandpas (and) frankly for Montanans in every corner of our state. Today was about helping Montanans get prescribed medications because they sometimes can’t afford it. Today was about helping Montanans who may skip doses of a medication to save money.”

The Associated Press reported the bill ”would limit seniors’ out-of-pocket costs, and require drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if they raise prices faster than inflation. Those inflation rebates are a problem for some Republican senators, who see them as a doorway to government price controls.”

Daines said the bill adds transparency to a complex drug pricing system and holding pharmacy middlemen responsible for price negotiations accountable.

Daines said the bill lowers Medicare beneficiaries out-of-pocket costs by $20 billion. It will result in lower premiums of $5 billion, Daines said. It will save taxpayers more than $100 billion.

He said the next step is to get it on to the Senate floor and signed into law. Daines said the bill also had the support of President Donald Trump.

The committee voted 19-9 to advance the bill, the Associated Press reported, but said it “passed because of unanimous support from the panel’s Democratic minority, while a majority of Republicans opposed it.”

Summers, who was with Daines in Washington, D.C., said many Montanans have faced tough choices of paying for prescription drugs or utility bills. He said he was optimistic the bill would be signed into law.

“This is our No. 1 issue for our members,” he said. “This is our No. 1 concern and to see headway like this is very encouraging.”

Daines was asked what took lawmakers so long to pass such legislation and why it wasn’t passed years ago.

“It always takes far too long to get something done in Washington, D.C.,” he said, adding later that the key goal is compromise.

“I’m … hopeful we’ll keep in mind what the end goal is and that is lower prescription drug prices for Montanans and the American people,” Daines said, adding there will still be back and forth to get to that goal.

“I got to believe there are many naysayers out there who believed we would not be here today,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but this is a very important step today.”

He said the House would likely be moving something out of committee in September.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said the Finance Committee advanced a number of proposals he backed to bring transparency on “the complicated web of drug pricing.”

That included a five-year freeze on the fees that community pharmacies have to retroactively pay to pharmacy benefit managers, creating savings passed to Montana customers by lower costs.