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Troy Jackson is president of the Maine Senate.
In 2016, a young woman from Limestone received some difficult news — news that one in eight women in this country will get at some point in their lives. She had breast cancer. When she arrived at her first chemotherapy appointment and learned how much the treatment would cost, her first thought was, “Oh my God. I’m going to die just because I can’t afford these medications.”
The cost of lifesaving medication or treatment should never be or even feel like a death sentence. Yet, I know that this is the reality for too many Maine families and seniors. There is a grandmother in Kennebunk living with COPD whose inhalers cost double her Social Security check. She was forced to cut back on her medication — against her doctor’s orders — because of the cost increases.
Maine people deserve better. It’s why my colleagues and I have put together the Making Health Care Work for Maine package. This package includes a suite of five bills that work to lower prescription drug costs, improve transparency and ensure that Mainers have access to lifesaving medication.
Over and over again, Big Pharma has jacked up drug prices with little rationale. They do it because they can. And Maine patients are the ones paying the price. One in seven Mainers reported skipping treatment and health care due to cost before the pandemic. It’s likely only gotten worse.
Even as hardworking people found themselves suddenly out of work and without health insurance through no fault of their own, drug companies raised prices. In a report released last June, Patients for Affordable Drugs found that the prices of more than 245 medications increased an average of 23.8 percent. What’s worse, many of these drugs are used to treat people with chronic illnesses, treat patients with COVID-19, or are undergoing testing to treat patients with COVID-19.
It’s just another example of Big Pharma using a bad situation to grow its bottom line. People living with chronic illness, especially seniors on fixed incomes, are left without many options when the cost of their medication increases. Do they skip doses and put their lives in danger so they can afford groceries, or do they go hungry? These are decisions no one should have to make.
It’s why Maine lawmakers have taken it upon ourselves to act. We know better than to wait around for wealthy corporations to do what’s right or for the federal government to act. With the Making Health Care Work for Maine package, more Maine families will get the care and life-saving medication they need without going bankrupt.
The first bill — LD 120 — would create the Office of Affordable Health Care. This office would be responsible for investigating what is driving sky-high prices and making recommendations for action at the state level to keep prices down.
The second bill — LD 1117 — would protect Mainers from price gouging — the outrageous quick price hikes of generic medication that often grab headlines. These tend to be drugs that have been on the market for years with no new developments. We’ve allowed the attorney general to go after companies charging astronomical prices for basic essentials, like $10 for a roll of toilet paper. There is no reason we shouldn’t have basic protection for Maine people when it comes to medication.
The other proposals in this package include a bill from Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, to improve price transparency, a bill from Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, to prevent unsupported price increases that happen more gradually over time, and a bill from Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, to create an emergency insulin safety program.
One diagnosis shouldn’t mark the end of someone’s financial security, nor should the cost of treatment be a death sentence. I know we won’t repair our broken health care system overnight. But you can bet that my colleagues and I will do everything we can to ensure no Mainer looks at the price of their treatment and thinks, “Oh my God. I’m going to die just because I can’t afford these medications.”