Prescription drug affordability board bill likely in 2022

After clearing the legislature, and getting vetoed by the governor in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic over its $1 million price tag, a prescription drug affordability board bill is likely to be reintroduced in the upcoming session. 

Sen. Karen Keiser, chair of the Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee, said she plans on bringing the bill back in 2022, although it will likely be a stronger piece of legislation. The original bill would have created a five-member board, appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee, which would work with the Health Care Authority and other groups dealing with prescription drug costs. It would have required a report with recommendations for ways to create a cost growth benchmark for prescriptions. 

 

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Each year, the board would have needed to identify brand name drugs that are introduced to the market with a wholesale acquisition cost of more than $30,000 per year or course of treatment lasting less than a year. It would also need to identify biosimilar products that are at least 15% cheaper than brand name products, along with other drugs which could provide savings. 

The cost of rising drug prices has been noted for years. 

“In terms of the health care dollar, we spend more on prescription drugs than we do on hospital care at this point,” Keiser said. 

Over the past few years, some insulin products have increased in price by as much as 70%. Keiser also pointed to multiple sclerosis treatments, which were introduced in the 1990s, and saw their price increase from $58,000 annually to $98,000. 

The prescription drug affordability board could apply an upper payment limit to the market in Washington State, barring drug manufacturers from charging whatever price they choose, Keiser said. 

“Those are the kinds of things that prescription drug affordability board members can tease out and set a price that they will set the cost that taxpayers will pay. And we can push, I think, the market back into a competitive place with those kinds of tools.”

If the bill authorizing the board is approved during the 2022 session, Keiser hopes to have it up and running by March 2023. The board will also have access to state data on hospital costs, data and other information. 

Keiser noted that Washington is not the first state to implement a similar board, pointing to Colorado, which already has one. 

“We’re not on a one-woman campaign here, this is a coordinated effort for many states, because we just can’t afford it any longer.”

A renewal of the insulin cap is likely next session as well, as the original bill is set to sunset next year. The bill puts a $100 a month cap on out of pocket insulin expenses.