State lawmakers are poised to introduce legislation backed by Gov. Phil Murphy that would limit the cost of life-saving drugs — including asthma inhalers and insulin — for some residents in New Jersey, and rein in the rising price of health care.
The Democratic governor announced the bill package at a senior center in Willingboro Township on Monday, where state Sen. Troy Singleton, who grow up a short walk from the center, described the dire choices people tell him they’re forced to make over the high cost of prescription drugs.
“Every time that I come home to Willingboro, someone grabs me ... and will say, ‘Troy, my mother is cutting her pills in half,’ or ‘my father has skipped his prescription medicine,’” Singleton, D-Burlington, said.
“We’re the richest nation in the world and one of the richest states in that nation,” he added. “No one should go to the poorhouse because they got sick.”
The first bill Murphy announced will cap the costs for some emergency drugs, specifically insulin, asthma inhalers, and EpiPens.
“Under this proposal, anyone covered by a state-regulated health plan, or the state health benefits, or the school employee health benefits plans, will be able to get a 30-day supply of insulin for $35 or less, purchase EpiPens for $25 or less, and get asthma inhalers for $50 or less,” Murphy said.
But the measure would fail to reach the majority of New Jersey residents since the state can only enact insurance laws that apply to state-regulated insurance plans, like Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program and the State Health Benefits Plan. These plans cover about only one-third of New Jerseyans.
Federally regulated, self-insured companies cover the majority of New Jersey residents who have private insurance.
Murphy and proponents argued it could be a lifesaver for many.
“Enouh is enough when it comes to rising drug costs,” Murphy said. “These are the smart steps that we can take now for both the short term and the long term.”
The two other bills would allocate money to collect and analyze drug pricing across the entire supply chain. They would also call for oversight over third-party companies that manage prescription drug plans — called pharmacy benefit managers — that have been criticized for taking a large cut of savings they find.
Another bill would allow the state Department of Human Services and NJ FamilyCare program to “join a multi-state purchasing pool to negotiate more competitive drug prices,” Murphy said.
The bills have yet to be introduced but were greeted with optimism by the state director of AARP of New Jersey.
“New Jerseyans are sick and tired of paying the highest prices in the world for the medications they need. More than two out of three New Jersey voters 50 and older are concerned they won’t be able to afford the medicines they need in the future,” Evelyn Liebman, the group’s director, said in a statement.
“We look forward to reviewing the legislative package introduced today,” she said.
The bills would have to pass both houses of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature — the Senate and Assembly — before Murphy could sign them into law.
Murphy pledged during his State of the State address last month he’d send lawmakers a plan to make prescription drugs more affordable in New Jersey, including “life-saving” medication and pills that millions of residents take daily.
He said in the speech the goal is making prices in the supply chain “more transparent, so we can see what drives drug prices higher, and so we can lower them.”
“Lower costs will save families hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year,” Murphy said at the time.
In addition, he said his administration will “continue to directly take on increasing costs to make health care more affordable and accessible” this year, though he didn’t lay out specifics at the time.