Sen. Debbie Stabenow unveils prescription drug legislation at Ishpeming Senior Center

Published: Apr. 3, 2018 at 4:57 PM EDT
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Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is unveiling legislation to try and lower the cost of prescription drugs for Michigan residents. She believes healthcare is a basic human right, and that includes being able to afford medication. Tuesday, she held a press conference at the Ishpeming Senior Center detailing this legislation.

According to the AARP, prescription drug prices for popular brand-name drugs has risen 208 percent from 2008 to 2016, and Senator Stabenow is saying enough is enough.

"Michigan pharmacists brought to my attention the fact that they can't tell a customer what the lowest out of pocket price is at the counter, and I said, 'What are you talking about, why can't you tell them?' and they said they have to sign these contracts, and these contracts are getting more and more restrictive. The middle men in these contracts are getting more and more money, and they're setting it up where the pharmacist can't tell you the lowest price. I was very concerned, checked it out, and the fact that it was happening all over Michigan and all over the country, and so I reached out to other colleagues and we took a look at this and said this is really ridiculous," explains Senator Debbie Stabenow.

As a result, Senator Stabenow has put together legislation to try and lower these prescription drug prices. The first part, her bipartisan Know the Lowest Price Act, cracks down on gag clauses, which prevent patients from knowing the lowest price option.

"Basically what it states is that we're not allowed to discuss a lower cost option. So if they're paying say $30-$40 for a prescription, if we were able to sell it to them at a lower price without their insurance, we are not allowed to discuss that," says Mike Russell, a pharmacist at Snyders Drug Store.

Know the Lowest Price Act has been introduced to the Senate, and Senator Stabenow says she hopes it can move forward this year.

The other two parts are the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act and the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act. The first part would allow for negotiations with drug companies for price discounts under Medicare Part D. The second part would allow the importation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada approved by the FDA.

"The fact that Senator Stabenow is so well in tune with what's really going on in the pharmacy benefit management industry is highly refreshing for the pharmacy world. We've been essentially controlled by pharmacy benefit managers for a very long time, and we've been essentially screaming for legislation for a very long time to help put some oversight in place that allows for fair practices and also allows us to help decrease prices of medications for patients," states Tyler Jenema, a pharmacist and owner of Peninsula Pharmacy in Marquette.

The final two parts do not yet have bipartisan support, but Senator Stabenow will continue to push the issue to the drug lobbyists.

"The prescription drug lobby, which is super strong - 1,400 plus lobbyists, 14 lobbyists for every one senator - pressed very hard on this. I'm standing up to them, but we need colleagues, Republican colleagues joining us so that we can stand up to them and get the price lowered," states Senator Stabenow.

"This legislation would definitely help them and allow them to have a better quality of life. I mean they shouldn't have to choose between filling their prescriptions for the month and buying groceries," Russell says.

Until the legislation is put into law, Senator Stabenow is urging people to question their pharmacists.

"I would also encourage people to, when you talk to the pharmacist, ask the pharmacist if you could get a better price if you pay for this out of pocket, rather than using your insurance, because the pharmacist can't just tell you by contract but you can sure ask them," Senator Stabenow says.