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Will Pa. be the next state to try to regulate prescription drug costs like public utilities?

Rich Pedroncelli

Prescription drugs should be regulated like public utilities, says state Rep. Dan Frankel, which is why the Allegheny County Democrat plans to reintroduce a bill this upcoming legislative session to establish a prescription drug affordability board.

A previous version of the bill proposed a five-member board that would be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. During a Thursday morning press conference, Frankel said the board would function similarly to a public utility commission by setting caps on the prices of commonly prescribed medications like insulin.

"We do this already with electricity and with water, and medications are just as vital to energy bill survival and ability to thrive as these other public utilities," said Frankel.

Nearly 4 in 10 people who take prescription drugs report that they have difficulty affording their prescriptions, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation that was published this spring.

“Prescription drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them,” said Antoinette Kraus, executive director of Pennsylvania Health Access Network, which hosted the press conference.

More regulation jeopardizes innovation and such boards don’t address the roles of insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers, which set patients’ out-of-pocket costs, argues the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a leading lobbyist for drugmakers.

“Legislators should be working towards solutions that actually lower costs at the pharmacy counter without risking access to medicines,” said the organization’s spokesperson Stami Williams.

Eight states have adopted prescription drug affordability boards, including Ohio, New Jersey and Maryland, which was the first state to establish such a board in 2019.

Because these boards are a relatively new policy initiative, the jury's still out on their overall effectiveness, according to analysis from a public affairs and social impact firm published last October by the Commonwealth Fund: "Prescription drug affordability boards have the potential to be a valuable tool in the fight against high prescription drug costs ... Much will depend on their ability to obtain resources, expertise, and data."

Sarah Boden