Gov. Phil Murphy and several top Democratic lawmakers announced a series of bills they’ll support to curtail the price of life-saving drugs like insulin, asthma inhalers and EpiPens, amid surging nationwide health care costs.
“We’re the richest nation in the world and one of the richest states in that nation,” one of the key supporters, state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th District, said at the Feb. 14 announcement at a Willingboro Township senior center. “No one should go to the poorhouse because they got sick.”
Murphy pledged in his annual State of the State address in January to push several such bills forward to rein in the costs of prescription drugs.
None of the bills have been formally introduced.
One measure would create limits on the out-of-pocket costs of certain life-saving drugs: $35 for a 30-day supply of insulin, $25 for EpiPens and $50 for asthma inhalers. But, proposed Senate Bill 1614 would only apply to the state worker and school employee health plans – provided by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey – which cover roughly 2 million people in the state.
Millions more New Jerseyans get their health coverage through private insurers.
“With these efforts, we will join the growing number of states that are saying enough is enough when it comes to rising drug costs by taking a long look under the hood of the entire process – and then fixing what needs to be fixed,” Murphy said during the Monday event.
Another proposed measure, S1616, would enact higher state scrutiny of pharmacy benefits managers, third-party companies that handle the prescription drug piece of many health insurance plans. Murphy said that proposal would “prohibit some of the bad practices that drive costs up.”
S1616 would create a system for “drug price transparency across the supply chain,” according to Murphy’s office, ranging from pharmaceutical manufacturers and drug distributors to PBMs.
A fourth measure would allow New Jersey’s Department of Human Services and NJ FamilyCare program to join a “multi-state” drug purchasing program that would allow those states to “negotiate more competitive drug prices,” the governor’s office added.
“New Jerseyans are sick and tired of paying the highest prices in the world for the medications they need,” reads a Monday statement from AARP New Jersey Advocacy Director Evelyn Liebman. “More than 2 out of 3 New Jersey voters 50 and older are concerned they won’t be able to afford the medicines they need in the future; yet, prescription drug prices continue to rise faster than inflation.”
Another measure, which was not included in the Monday announcement, would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board that would evaluate drug prices and recommend how the state could lower those costs.
Singleton said in a Feb. 15 statement, the day after the press conference, that the bill package needed to include the creation of the board, but Murphy’s office did not indicate if they would support the proposal.
“These efforts, when combined with our work to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board and to require carriers to pass savings onto customers, will truly be transformative and make a positive difference in the lives of people who rely on these life-saving medicines,” Singleton said on Tuesday.
Business trade groups and the pharmaceutical industry – which could be forced to cut their drug prices as a result – have questioned the effectiveness of the measures.
“Addressing pricing of health care is much more complex than setting a mechanism to establish price controls for one segment of a multi-level sector,” reads a statement from New Jersey Business & Industry Association Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas.
“New Jersey is instead sending a message to [research and development] companies that there are much more attractive states to invest in,” she added. “That’s exactly what we don’t need.”
BioNJ, the trade group for New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry, likewise warned about measures that would “stifle innovation for future cures.” New Jersey, after all, has garnered the status as the “Medicine Chest of the World.”
“We need a holistic and systemwide approach to truly address this important issue,” BioNJ said in a Monday statement. “Now is not the time to stifle innovation through proposals that will do nothing to ensure savings for patients by enacting price controls.”
Both BioNJ and the NJBIA were particularly critical of the proposed price control board, saying in their statements issued Monday that many of these worst-case scenarios they outlined would become reality if the board were created.
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of AARP New Jersey Advocacy Director Evelyn Liebman. Also, the updated story includes details about a proposal for a Prescription Drug Affordability Board as well as further reaction from BioNJ and NJBIA.