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HELENA, Mont. –Montana Governor Steve Bullock today singlehandedly destroyed bipartisan reforms that would have lowered prescription drug costs for tens of thousands of Montanans.

By vetoing Senate Bill 71, Bullock chose to side with the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, protecting their multi-billion-dollar profits at the expense of Montanans suffering from ever-increasing prescription drug prices.

SB 71 would have saved about 70,000 Montanans an estimated $8 million on medications in the first year alone.

This bill was a Montana solution to lower prescription drug costs. It was sponsored by a Republican in the Senate and carried by a Democrat in the House, and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support,” said State Auditor Matt Rosendale. “It’s simply astonishing that Governor Bullock would side with the multi-billion-dollar drug companies instead of Montanans and the doctors, pharmacists, and other health care professionals who supported the bill.”

“Bullock’s veto is a gift to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and it’s a slap in the face to consumers. Montanans expect much, much better from their governor,” Rosendale added.

Montana doctors, pharmacists, and other health care professionals testified in favor of SB 71, as well as the state’s largest union—the Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE)—the Trial Lawyers Association, local Montana elected officials, and national experts. The only opponents to the bill were lobbyists for various pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and health insurance companies.

Reactions to Bullock’s veto of Senate Bill 71 were harsh:

  • “I am sorry to hear that you sold out the best interests of pharmacies and patients in Montana for political contributions from the wealthy Pharmacy Benefit Managers. Montana should expect even more pharmacy failures and patients will suffer ever more limited access to needed prescription medications. Shame on you.” -Gary Morrison, Registered Pharmacist (RPh), Kalispell (The Clinical Pharmacy and Medical Arts Pharmacy)
  • “If SB 71, a bipartisan bill, is vetoed and PBM’s are allowed to continue their current unfair and untrustworthy practices, the future of local small-town pharmacies is in great danger.” -Josh Morris, PharmD, Owner of Elkhorn Pharmacy (Boulder, MT), Whitehall Pharmacy (Whitehall, MT), and Silvertip Pharmacy (West Yellowstone, MT)
  • “I am disappointed that SB 71 failed due to the Governor’s veto. This is a sad day for Montanans.” -Sen. Al Olszewski, M.D., Kalispell, sponsor of SB 71
  • “Patients are helpless participants in the health insurance marketplace. SB 71 offered protections for them against price hikes caused by kickbacks and conflicts of interests.” -Marc Whitacre, M.D., Havre
  • “I am very saddened to hear that Governor Bullock has vetoed SB 71. This powerful legislation was a clear step for reducing healthcare costs and his veto keeps Montanans locked into healthcare that puts big insurance companies first and patients last. He should have considered the needs of our citizens more than proving a partisan point.” -Sarah Mckinney, small business owner and Havre City Council member (speaking as a private individual, not on behalf of the Council)
  • “We are very disappointed that Governor Bullock vetoed this bill that would lower drug prices and hold PBMs accountable. We will keep fighting to ensure that consumers are protected and that they have access to affordable prescription drugs.” -David Balto, antitrust lawyer, former Policy Director of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

SB 71 would have reformed the way health insurance companies contract with third-party middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). The bill would have prohibited kickbacks, price gouging, and ended conflicts of interest. SB 71 would have ensured that the savings from these reforms went directly to lowering the price Montanans pay for prescription drugs as part of their insurance plans.

SB 71 was written from scratch by the State Auditor’s office after a two-year investigation into rising drug costs in Montana. The bill was sponsored by Senator and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, and was carried by Representative Gordon Pierson, D-Deer Lodge, in the House.  The bill passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan majorities: 37-13 in the Senate and 71-27 in the House.

Rosendale’s office has led the way in developing a solution to lower prescription drug costs. Other states are now adopting Montana’s legislation to save their own consumers millions in drug costs. Maine has already introduced legislation modeled off SB 71, and Texas, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and others are looking at doing the same. National organizations have also recognized SB 71 as groundbreaking legislation to rein in PBMs and prescription drug costs.

Edit 5/10/19: A fact-check of Bullock’s veto is available HERE. The governor’s language is in black, rebuttals are in red.