Maryland just became the first state to protect patients by defying price gouging.
Maryland just passed a first-of-its-kind bill that protects patients by allowing them to pursue legal action against pharmaceutical companies found significantly increasing the price of life-saving medications. This has become a huge problem in the United States, where medicine and insurance has become a for-profit business rather than a means to keep people alive.
This bill passed with flying colors because of bipartisan support of the legislation, winning 38-7 in the Senate and 137-2 in the House of Representatives. Though drug companies are typically able to donate to lawmakers’ campaigns to urge them to vote against measures like this, citizens’ unrest with the skyrocketing prices even for off-patent drugs seems to have overrode any tethers lawmakers might have had to affected corporations.
The bill would allow the attorney general to file a civil suit against manufacturers that charge “unconscionable” prices for off-patent or generic drugs, which is defined as an excessive increase unjustified by the cost of producing or distributing the drug. The manufacturer can be charged up to $10,000 for every infraction and the attorney general can request additional information from the companies that increased the prices to determine if price gouging occurred.
“When a drug company doubles or triples—or multiplies by 50—the price of medication, it imperils the health and finances of patients and their families, and it threatens public health,” said Democratic Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “The new law will give Maryland a necessary tool to combat unjustified and extreme prices for medicines that have long been on the market and that are essential to our health and well-being.”
At a federal level, Congress has faced significant problems when attempting to pass similar bills or in any way regulate pharmaceutical companies. Healthcare is a complex issue that often favors corporations over patients and Maryland decided to tackle this issue at the state level rather than waiting for a nationwide, careful approach.
The most notable example of recent price gouging is when the infamous Martin Shkreli, the then-head fund manager of Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the rights to Daraprim, an essential medication for the treatment of AIDS, and increased the price by 5500%. The drug was originally $13, but he jacked it up to $750 and then told people that this was to cover the costs of future research to make drugs cheaper. People were obviously outraged, and companies like Baum Pharmaceuticals combatted this by creating a generic medicine that they sold for $1.
Critics of Maryland’s bill claim that this bill will stop competition among generic drug manufacturers and ultimately result in still-higher drug prices, but many people, including healthcare professionals and the president of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, disagree completely. Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative President Vincent DeMarco said that colleagues from all over the country are asking how to replicate this bill to benefit their states while Dr. Jeremy Greene, who practices at East Baltimore Medical Center, said that this law will help patients he sees regularly.
“I find myself seeing evidence of these problems repeatedly in my clinical experience and increasingly in the past five years,” said Greene, a professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Whatever your stance may be on politics, it can generally be agreed upon that price hikes for patients are never good for anyone except the companies that make tons of money on these unnecessary increases. This measure is a great start in the fight against pharmaceutical companies, who have way too much power over people whose lives are at risk if they cannot afford their medication.