Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Dist. 19) said Wednesday that she hopes various health care bills she’s working on this legislative session—including those targeting high prescription drug prices and exploring how to add more behavioral health workers in Maryland—make it to Gov. Wes Moore’s desk later this year.
Cullison joined County Executive Marc Elrich and other county health officials during a news briefing on Wednesday, where she highlighted the efforts. One of her bills would set “upper payment limits” for the state’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board, a body that was created in 2019 to help protect Marylanders from increasing prescription drug prices.
The “upper payment limits” item in the legislation is not about price-setting for certain pharmaceuticals, Cullison said. It is about setting how much state government is willing to pay for those drugs, she said.
The board’s work is already having an impact on helping lower prescription drug prices, Cullision said—and this legislation is meant to add to the board’s toolkit.
Insulin prices are a prominent example of the problem, Cullison said—they increased 500% in less than a decade: one vial jumped from $10 to about $500. Cullison and Elrich said that Maryland and the federal government’s work in recent years have helped—and Eli Lilly, an insulin provider, announced Wednesday that it was cutting insulin prices by 70% and capping monthly out-of-pocket costs at $35.
Maryland lawmakers passed a bill last year that set the monthly out-of-pocket costs at $35.
Cullison said that prices for other generic prescription drugs have increased over 300% in a three-year period, many of which are biologic drugs. Those that treat Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and similar ailments are often the ones that skyrocket in price, the delegate added.
Cullison said that drug manufacturers can abuse the patent system, such as by making a minor change to a drug that is going off-patent, which would generate a new patent. That would let them keep the drug price higher, instead of letting generic versions into the marketplace, he said.
Other bills aim to address the state’s shortage of behavioral health workers, Cullison said. One of them, broadly speaking, requires that the state Secretary of Health establish a pilot program to bring more workers to Maryland by increasing graduation and licensure rates, providing more financial assistance for medical students pursuing those fields, and helping hire workers who better reflect the state’s diversity.
According to the bill, a committee of over a dozen members, consisting of various medical experts across the state, would assist in creating the pilot program.
Cullison said that low pay and employee burnout caused by the coronavirus pandemic are two major factors that have led to the behavioral health worker shortage in Maryland.
But another factor is the overall reimbursement rate for behavioral health professionals, which was low before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, Cullison said.
“With the new mentality we’re looking at … the [Affordable Care Act] requires parity in payment and reimbursement, so that the amounts of reimbursement have actually gone up for our behavioral health professionals, but there are not enough of them,” Cullison said.