Senate President Tim Ashe Makes Lower Drug Prices A Top Priority For The New Session

Jan 2, 2018

Lawmakers return to Montpelier on Wednesday to tackle a number of key issues during the 2018 session. One bill that will receive close scrutiny could significantly reduce the cost of prescription drugs for all Vermonters.

Senate President Tim Ashe says addressing this issue is one of his top priorities for the new session.

"Trying to find strategies to shine more light on prescription drug rip off pricing and strategies that might allow us to do something to exploit any opportunity to find better prices,” said Ashe.  

Ashe says the first strategy involves a little-known provision of the Affordable Care Act. Under this section, states are allowed to seek a federal waiver to import drugs from Canada.

Here's how it would work. First, lawmakers would need to pass a law creating an entity that would act as a wholesale distributor of these prescription drugs. This new vendor would be authorized to buy drugs from Canada.

Then the state would need to seek a waiver from the federal government to put this new system in place.

Ashe says the state of Utah is actively pursuing this option and he thinks Vermont should closely follow what happens there.

"Trying to find strategies to shine more light on prescription drug rip off pricing and strategies that might allow us to do something to exploit any opportunity to find better prices." — Senate President Tim Ashe

"In the old days when we thought about drugs coming from a place like Canada, it was about an individual driving over the border and then coming back with a personal supply,” said Ashe. “What Utah has been exploring is establishing essentially a vendor who would act as a wholesaler to bring in very high-cost drugs back into their state and then have those drugs be purchased through the normal pharmacy system."

Ashe says the plan, when fully implemented, has the potential of saving Vermonters millions of dollars.

"We believe that if this was allowed and if after thorough vetting was a wise thing to do, it has the potential to save tremendous sums of dollars on some of the high volume, high-cost drugs that our commercial payers are experiencing right now," said Ashe.    

Addison Sen. Claire Ayer is the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare committee.

She says she's eager to pursue this option because it could also save the state of Vermont a lot of money.

"We would supply the drugs for Medicaid and any insurer that wants to be part of that or any pharmacy that wants to be part of buying from this wholesaler would be able to do it." — Senate Health and Welfare chairwoman Claire Ayer

"We would supply the drugs for Medicaid and any insurer that wants to be part of that or any pharmacy that wants to be part of buying from this wholesaler would be able to do it," said Ayer. 

And Ayer is hoping that getting a waiver from the Trump Administration won't be difficult.

"It is an opportunity for some significant savings but first, we have to get the waiver and pass a law so that so we're allowed to do it," said Ayer.  

Sen. Ashe's second strategy is a plan being considered in California. It requires pharmaceutical companies to give a 30-day notice before raising drug prices.

"They require that drug companies pre-warn the jurisdictions if they're going to jack up the prices all of a sudden which we believe will have a slight chilling effect on drug companies who then will be facing that scrutiny in that window of time so we want to try to join states putting pressure in that way,” said Ashe.

The Senate Health and Welfare committee plans to take testimony on both of these proposals in the coming weeks.