Local Doctor Invokes “Pitchforks and Torches” Illustration During Hearing On Bill To Reduce Prescription Drug Costs

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By: Paul Dragu

Havre ophthalmologist and physician Marc Whitacre pulled no punches about the third-party administrators who are purported to be a big cause of high drug costs.

If the general public knew the significant effect of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) on drug costs, “there would be torches and pitchforks outside this room,” Whitacre testified during Friday’s hearing on Senate Bill 71 before the House Business and Labor Committee…

Supporters say SB 71 could save Montanans up to $8 million in prescription drug costs. It continues to cruise through the 2019 Legislature.

Created by state Auditor Matt Rosendale and his office, SB 71 passed the House Business and Labor Committee 16-3 on Monday, not its largest margin. On Feb. 22, SB 71 passed the Senate Finance and Claims Committee 16-0…

Rosendale and his staff aim to rein in PBMs by going after insurance companies. If the bill passes, insurance companies will be fined for contracting with PBMs in a way that would allow them to engage in price-bumping schemes.

That aspect of the bill has drawn ire from opponents, who say it’s unfair to fine insurance companies for something PBMs do. Rosendale’s staff and the bill’s sponsor, senator and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, have repeatedly countered by saying that general contractors in other industries are held responsible for their subcontractors, and this is the exact same concept.

SB 71 would apply only to the individual drug market. But Deputy Auditor Kris Hansen said there may be no limit to how far out something like SB 71 could stretch, once it succeeds.

The bill aims to reform the way health insurance companies contract with PBMs, with the goal of eliminating pricing schemes and reducing health care costs…

Earlier, Marilyn Bartlett, the special projects coordinator for Rosendale’s office, said she will be traveling across the countryto work with employers and union members to bring about the kind of structure Rosendale’s office is trying to make law. Rosendale said during his opening that his team has been talking to their counterparts in Louisiana, Texas, North Dakota and Rhode Island about implementing something like SB 71.

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