July 16, 2020

Allen to take action against injunction

The day after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against parts of Maine’s new prescription drug bill, U.S. Rep. Thomas Allen said he might lead a charge to the rescue.

Allen said in a prepared statement released late Friday that if the court’s decision stands he would “consider legislation explicitly authorizing states to negotiate prescription drug discounts for all uninsured residents through the Medicaid program.”

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing 100 large pharmaceutical companies in the suit, argued Maine’s law would harm the reputations of companies that don’t cooperate with Maine. Lawyers argued that the intention of Maine to put the drugs of companies that don’t voluntarily negotiate for lower-priced products on a list, which would slow the approval of their drugs for sale to Medicaid patients, was illegal.

U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby agreed and issued an injunction against the state Thursday.

The law is designed to allow Maine to negotiate on behalf of about 325,000 Mainers who lack prescription insurance. That would lower prices for the group just as members of HMOs get lower prices for being part of a larger group.

While smarting from Hornby’s decision, state officials got some solace from Allen’s announcement.

“It’s very encouraging to us that so many people and so many elected people are trying to do something about the dramatic prescription drug problem that we have,” said David Winslow, a spokesman for Maine Department of Human Services Commissioner Kevin Concannon.

Winslow said regardless of the challenges, efforts to lower prices of drugs for Maine residents will go forward. Portions of the new Maine law not enjoined by Hornby will continue to be developed, he said. And there are other initiatives as well.

Winslow cited a new plan by Eastern Maine Healthcare of Bangor that will create a new pharmacy to ship drugs at discounts of 30 percent or more to patients in Maine. The drugs will be “reimported” to patients of doctors who participate and hold licenses in both Maine and Canada.

In addition, New England states continue to work on a plan to join forces to negotiate lower prices for drugs.

Federal proposals that would help some citizens get drugs and health services also are on the horizon. Late Friday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it would propose new rules to enable more Americans to qualify for Medicaid. The proposal would update qualification rules that would add “tens of thousands” of Americans to the program. Specifically, states would be given the authority to change their own rules “so that elderly or people with a disability would not have to lose their health coverage if they move into a community health setting.”

This would allow people who want to maintain independence without going to a nursing home to do so, HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala said in a prepared release.

The changes would also broaden eligibility by updating formulas that determine financial qualifications for Medicaid, the department said.

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