Alabama Moves to Lower Prescription Drug Costs

Alabama moved to eliminate gag clauses that limit consumer knowledge of drug prices.

Alabama moved to eliminate gag clauses that limit consumer knowledge of drug prices. Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock


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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Connecticut mandates climate change education in schools … Texas legislature allocates no money for Census outreach … Baltimore recovers from ransomware attack.

With a unanimous vote in both the state House and Senate, Alabama lawmakers passed a bill that would prevent pharmacy benefit managers from using “gag clauses.” These types of clauses prohibit pharmacists from explaining to customers that they can often pay less for prescriptions if they do so out-of-pocket, as insurance co-pays for drugs can sometimes be more expensive than the drug itself. State Sen. Arthur Orr, a Republican, said that the bill is about protecting consumers. “This bill [will allow] local pharmacists to inform their customers when it would be cheaper for the customer to buy a prescription drug with cash, out-of-pocket. You should have transparent pricing in the healthcare market, and consumers should know which options are most affordable for them and their families,” said Orr. If Gov. Kay Ivey decides to sign it, the bill will make Alabama the 26th state to ban gag clauses. There has also been an effort at the federal level to address gag clauses. In October 2018  President Trump signed two bills into law, the Know the Lowest Price Act and the Patients’ Right to Know Drug Prices Act, which aim to bring greater transparency to prescription drug pricing. Last week, the U.S. Senate also took up a bill introduced by Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet from Colorado that would ban a different element of gag clauses, wherein health systems use their insurer contracts to prevent patients from opting for less expensive treatment from a competitor.  [Yellow Hammer News; Alabama Political Reporter; Kaiser Health News]

CLIMATE CHANGE | Connecticut may become the first state in the nation to mandate that the science curriculum in its schools cover human-induced climate change. The bill passed the state House after a lengthy debate in which Republican representatives strongly dissented. "There is [an] active scientific debate among scientists and others ... about how much global warming is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. Why tie teachers’ hands to [teach] one side of a debate?” said Rep. John Piscopo. But Democrats argued that 97% of publishing climate scientists agree that climate change is caused by human actions. "The idea that climate change is human-made and actually occurring is not controversial scientifically,” said Democratic Rep. Matt Blumenthal. “And I don’t think including this in the curriculum should be controversial ... what this bill does is not take one side of an argument, but it teaches what we should be teaching to our children: the science with the politics taken out of it,” he continued. [Connecticut Mirror; Hartford Courant]

CENSUS | Texas has a history of undercounting its residents in the Census, but lawmakers during the recent legislative session decided against allocating funds for an outreach campaign or a “complete count commission” ahead of the 2020 Census. Democratic lawmakers, including state Rep. César Blanco and Sen. Juan Hinojosa, had been pushing legislation to develop a comprehensive count strategy, which would have included money for town hall meetings about the Census, newsletters, and Census worker recruitment. Blanco was disappointed to see that the legislature adjourned without addressing the issue. “It wasn’t a priority for this legislative body, unfortunately,” he said. Rep. John Zerwas, a Republican, said that the $105 million proposal requested too much money. “I think Representative Blanco had a very good narrative around it as to why it’s important that we maximize our census count, and nobody would disagree with him on that. I think there was some concern in dedicating that amount of money to that effort right now when we had so many other priorities that were in the budget,” Zerwas said. Around 25% of Texas’ population, or 6 million people, is defined as hard-to-count—if the state is inaccurately counted, it could lose federal legislative seats and funding. [Texas Observer; Texas Monthly]

BALTIMORE EMAILS | Twenty-two days after the Baltimore city government was attacked by ransomware, the email accounts of hacked officials are being returned to their owners. One city council member took to Twitter to celebrate, and Mayor Jack Young released a statement saying that the city is prioritizing the return of accounts to public safety agencies first. “A pilot was successfully implemented and we are rolling that solution out citywide. This is an ongoing process in our efforts to restore our network and applications in a safe and secure manner,” Young said. Now that the full scope of the ransomware attack has been realized, the city government is estimating the cost of repairs to be upwards of $18 million. But city budget director Bob Cenname said he is not concerned about the long-term impact. “Once we get through this bump, I don’t think the ransomware will have a huge effect,” Cenname said. [Baltimore Sun; Fox Baltimore]

AX-THROWING AND ALCOHOL | After being denied a liquor license by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC), an ax-throwing venue added pool tables and arcade games to qualify for one. The DABC said that the company, and another like it, were denied because ax-throwing is not specifically listed in state law as a “recreational activity” like bowling or skiing, two activities which do qualify businesses for liquor licenses. The DABC voted that with the addition of new games, ax-throwing businesses could obtain liquor licenses for beers that are 4% alcohol or lower by volume. Amanda Smith, who spoke for the DABC after the vote, said that the Utah legislature needed to use common sense as they consider changing alcohol laws. “I hope there are people who are looking at redoing the statute and getting rid of the enumeration [that defines recreational businesses], because who knows what recreation is going to look like in the future,” Smith said. [Salt Lake Tribune; Cache Valley Daily]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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