Updated April 4, 2023 - 7:43 pm
CARSON CITY — Nevadans could see the price of certain prescriptions capped under a bill considered by lawmakers Monday.
Assembly Bill 250, sponsored by Assemblywoman Venicia Considine, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Natha C. Anderson, D-Sparks, would cap the price of certain drugs to rates negotiated by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
During a press conference prior to the hearing, Considine was joined by doctors who spoke about their experiences treating patients unable to afford essential medications.
“I can assure you that these drugs aren’t magically more effective because of that increase in cost,” Dr. Helene Nepomuceno said during the virtual press conference. “By passing Assembly Bill 250 legislators can help overcome the problem of out of control, unaffordable, and inaccessible prescription drugs by making them more affordable and helping to save lives.”
The Inflation Reduction Act, signed in August, gave the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers to establish the maximum price of drugs sold to Medicare recipients. AB250 would set the cost of drugs for all Nevadans to the prices negotiated by federal officials.
The capped rates will apply to 10 drugs, which will be announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in September. Drugs on that list must be on the market for a certain number of years and without competition.
Bill sponsors shared drugs likely to be on that list, including some meant to treat certain cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes.
The proposed legislation would make it a deceptive trade practice for any individual or company to sell prescriptions at a price higher than the maximum fair price determined by the HHS. Those in violation couldn’t face criminal penalties but could face civil action.
‘No surprises’ bill
The bill would follow the federal timeline outlined by the Inflation Reduction Act, which would make capped prescription prices effective January 2026.
The purpose of introducing the bill so far in advance is to ensure the legislation is a “no surprises bill,” said Kate Marshall, who is a senior advisor with the economic policy nonprofit The Impact Project.
“This gives the hospitals, the insurers, the pharmaceutical manufacturers the same time that the federal government is giving them to make sure that they can include and correct the process so that when the patient goes to buy the medication at the pharmacy, they will pay the Medicare payer price,” Marshall said.
Under an amendment proposed by Considine, private health plans that are subject to collective bargaining agreements will be exempt from the bill unless they opt in.
But the amendment did not quell opposition, including from the Culinary Union.
“We want to stop launching large health care experiments in the Nevada legislative session halfway through the session,” said Bobbette Bond, the union’s public policy director. “We’d appreciate not having a round three of this next session and we’d really like a participation process where everybody gets to come to the table.”
Other groups raised concern about who would pay the national price for the drugs.
“These are providers that are going to be put in an untenable position of saying, ‘Do I lose money every time I give this drug to a patient? Or do I not stock this prescription at all?’” said Brian Warren, director of government affairs with the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a national trade association representing small and large biotech companies.
The Retail Association of Nevada, PhRMA Trade Association and the Pharmaceutical Industry Labor and Management Association all spoke in opposition to the bill.
‘Without these medications, I can’t breathe’
But several individuals shared personal stories of their struggles with high drug prices and urged lawmakers to pass the legislation. Groups including the Nevada State Education Association, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada and SEIU 1107 also spoke in support of the bill.
“Without these medications, I can’t breathe and it’s not like it’s a hypothetical thing. I can’t breathe,” said Jim Dart, a resident of Las Vegas.