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Weakened Prescription Drug Board Advances in Senate

Rachel Baye

The state Senate has given preliminary approval to legislation aimed at tamping down on prescription drug costs. But the Senate version is significantly weaker than the version that passed the House last month.

The bill tasks a new Prescription Drug Affordability Board with collecting information about drug prices and identifying those that may be too expensive. Under the House’s version, which faced firm opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, the board could set upper limits for how much residents pay for certain drugs beginning in July 2021. The Senate eliminated that part.

Instead, the Senate bill directs the board to study the issue and report back to the legislature by the end of 2020 with recommendations for how to reduce drug costs.

Sen. Clarence Lam, a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties and a physician, said he worries the new version isn’t sufficient.

“As I was campaigning last year, one of the main issues a lot of folks, especially seniors, have brought up was the rising cost of prescription drugs," he said. "And I guess the operative word there is ‘rising.’” 

But Sen. Brian Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat who spoke on behalf of the Finance Committee during Thursday's floor debate, said if the Prescription Drug Affordability Board recommends using upper price limits, the legislature could still implement them by July 2021, with the same timeline as the House bill.

The Senate has scheduled a final vote Friday. For the bill to gain final passage, the House and Senate will need to agree on a final version before the legislature adjourns Monday night.

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