July 31st marked the end of formal legislative sessions in Massachusetts, but before legislators ended their work, they passed some bills that mark real progress for patient access to life-changing cures, vaccines and therapies. Unfortunately, some critical measures did not pass but there are many reasons for optimism as we look forward to the 2023-2024 session in Massachusetts.
First the good news. The House and Senate passed, and Governor Baker signed, an extension of the Massachusetts Prescription Drug Assistance Law for an additional three years to January 1, 2026. Passage of this policy ensures patients will continue to have access to prescription drug assistance programs that significantly reduce their out-of-pocket expenses at the pharmacy counter. If the law had not been extended by the Legislature, it would have expired on January 1, 2023, and all prescription drug coupons would have become illegal in Massachusetts.
Next, some mixed news. After years of hard work by patient advocates, both the House and Senate unanimously passed versions of legislation that limits the use of step therapy. Step therapy occurs when an insurer requires a patient to fail on one drug prior to authorizing a different drug that may be more expensive. A requirement of this nature can cause unneeded pain and suffering for patients whose physicians have already approved a different treatment. While agreement on a compromise version of the legislation didn’t occur prior to the ending of the formal session, there is a possibility that a final version could be passed in an informal session this fall. If finally approved, this legislation will help ensure access to critical medications and treatments for those suffering from rare and serious illnesses.
Lastly, a legislative solution that would have a big impact on the wallets of Massachusetts residents who fill prescriptions at the drugstore made important progress this session. An Act Relative to promoting healthcare access and affordability for patients – a newly filed bill this session strongly supported by MassBio – would require health care plans to pass at least 80% of rebates received from pharmaceutical companies on covered drug products to patients in the form of lower copayments at the pharmacy counter. The legislation received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Financial Services which is a positive development that sets the stage for a renewed push next session. In 2019, in Massachusetts alone, pharmaceutical companies rebated more than $2.5 billion back to health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers – money that should be shared with customers and provide savings at the pharmacy counter. Instead, these rebates become profits for these companies and middlemen.
Next year, we will continue to advocate for these and other common-sense solutions to ensure patients have affordable access to the medicines they need. We will also continue to educate legislators about various misguided efforts that do not have an impact on patients’ out-of-pocket costs and ignore the drivers of the real costs impacting patients’ wallets: health insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers.
Because of the work of dedicated patients, advocates, and thoughtful policy makers, real progress was made this year to increase access and decrease costs for those in need of life-changing cures, vaccines and therapies. MassBio is proud to continue our support of the Cures for the Commonwealth campaign which allows people from across Massachusetts an avenue to engage on these critical issues and help inform legislators about what really matters.
To learn more about MassBio’s Cures for the Commonwealth campaign, please visit: www.curesforthecommonwealth.com.