On Friday, Maryland’s House Health and Government Operations Committee conducted its first votes of the new legislative term. The committee took up three bills: House Bills 214, 279, and 611.
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Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D – Montgomery) discussed HB 214, which would establish a Commission on Public Health for Maryland. The commission would assess Maryland’s Department of Health and local health departments’ capabilities regarding foundational public health services. Specifically, HB 214 would require an assessment of Maryland’s responses to COVID-19, overdose deaths, and racial and ethnic disparities in maternal mortality and birth outcomes.
The bill originally called for the commission to be composed of 18 members who would make recommendations to improve the delivery of foundational public health services for the state. However, the bill was amended to have the commission add on three local health officers, three to five members of the public who have demonstrated an interest in public health, and various state agencies to consult.
“The Public Health and Minority Health Disparities Subcommittee met for two weeks to discuss this bill, and it was voted out with consensus from all the members on that subcommittee,” Kelly said. “A lot of these amendments were contributions from stakeholders … and we made sure the scope of what this committee was looking at was narrow and focused on those foundational public health elements.”
The Health and Government Operations Committee unanimously voted favorably for HB 214 as amended. It awaits a vote on the House floor.
The committee also took up HB 279, which was introduced by Del. Bonnie Cullison (D – Montgomery). HB 279 would reestablish original duties for the Maryland Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which was first created in 2019. The board would set upper payment limits for certain prescription drugs and make a final policy recommendation to the general assembly on whether to expand its authority on all prescription drug products in the state by Dec. 1st, 2026.
On February 2nd, 2023, HB 279 passed with a vote of 8-3 in the Insurance and Pharmaceuticals Subcommittee with no amendments. During Friday’s meeting, Del. Matthew Morgan (R – St. Mary’s) spoke in opposition to HB 279, and how this bill might cause manufacturers to sell to the other 49 states before Maryland, which is why he planned to vote no.
Cullison responded by saying that the bill is intended to showcase what Maryland will pay for a drug. She compared this policy to that of the federal government’s handling of Medicare, and how this board would inform the general assembly on prescription costs, which the general assembly ultimately sets.
“Based on my research on this bill, this bill will increase competition. An upper payment limit can anchor prices, which can lead to lower drug prices for consumers,” Del. Harry Bhandari (D – Baltimore) said in support of the bill. “[It] also increases transparency. . . and helps us, policy makers, make informed decisions to address the rising cost of prescription drugs.”
Lastly, the committee took up HB 611, which was introduced by Kelly and Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D – Prince George’s). HB 611 would extend the termination date of the State Board of Nursing to July 1st, 2025, transfer authority over the board’s infrastructure operations from the board itself to the Secretary of Health, and stagger certain board members’ terms.
“This legislation will result in an influx of $10 million from Maryland’s general funds to help nurses with their administrative problems,” Kelly said. “This is an emergency bill.”
The Health and Government Operations Committee unanimously voted favorably for HB 611. It awaits a vote on the House floor.