What we’re doing at Augusta to make prescription drugs more accessible

Here in the Legislative Assembly, I have the privilege of serving on two legislative committees. The first is the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which I have the honor of chairing. The second is the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee. I really enjoy serving on both of these committees, but today I wanted to take some time to highlight some of our recent work in the HCIFS.

Part of the reason I enjoy being on this committee is because I get to work on issues that I have seen firsthand as a nurse midwife. I’ve seen patients struggle to pay for their medications and I’ve seen them worry about the cost of a doctor’s visit or a procedure. It has always been painful for me. My conviction that we must act on these issues only grew when I ran for office. I’ve heard so many people in our community talk about their struggles with our health care system and the tough decisions they’ve had to make, like paying for a prescription or filling the fridge with food. Last year, we made great progress in this area, but it is not enough. We need to keep pushing until no one is worried about paying for their medications, doctor visits, or the cost of health insurance.

This session, the HCIFS committee has already passed three new laws that will continue to move us in the right direction. The first bill is sponsored by my colleague, Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, and tackles “copay hoarder programs” that essentially charge patients twice for their medications. For people with chronic illnesses, the medications they need to survive can be extremely expensive and strain their budget. Sometimes these patients can find limited financial assistance to pay for the prescription. However, health insurers that have co-pay accumulator programs do not count this financial assistance toward the patient’s deductible or maximum out-of-pocket. This effectively negates any benefit a patient might have received from financial assistance, imposing costs on them that they had not anticipated. This practice is wrong and provides no benefit to the patient. We are working to put an end to it.

Another bill sponsored by Rep. Amy Roeder, D-Bangor, will allow people with chronic conditions to get an emergency supply of a drug from a pharmacy if they have a prescription for that drug, but cannot. not get a refill authorized by their doctor at the time they needed it. This bill is very important; Rep. Roeder cited her asthma and the need for an emergency inhaler as an example of why. If you’re having an asthma attack and don’t have a working inhaler, an emergency supply from a pharmacy could literally save your life. Currently, however, a pharmacist may not be authorized to provide this. This bill will make a real difference in times of crisis.

The third bill I wanted to highlight is sponsored by Rep. Richard Evans, D-Dover-Foxcroft, who is also a physician, and would lead Maine’s new Office of Affordable Health Care to analyze barriers to affordable health care and to the cover and make proposals to solve these problems. The bill also requires the Office to submit a report to the committee with these policy recommendations. You may recall that last year we passed a bill that created the Office of Affordable Health Care, and by now passing Rep. Evans’ bill, we can give the office a charge and a clear mission when operational.

These bills are all about to be voted on by the full Senate and House, and represent only a small sample of the work we do on the HCIFS committee. It’s an honor for me to work on your behalf every day for policies that will ensure that all Mainers can access the affordable, quality coverage we all deserve.

Do not hesitate to send us your questions, comments or ideas. You can email me at [email protected] or call my office at 287-1515.

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