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3/11/2021 Prescription drug affordability package introduced in Senate

STATE HOUSE – Following passage on Tuesday of a resolution proclaiming March “Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month” in Rhode Island, the Senate is announcing the reintroduction of a package of legislation to address the high cost of prescription drugs.
The Senate resolution (2021-S 0560) sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, complements legislation from the package that would require health insurers provide coverage, without cost sharing, for colorectal screenings and follow-up colonoscopies when necessary.

The Senate worked with AARP to develop much of the legislation, which also was submitted in the 2020 legislative session. The eight-bill package aims to protect consumers by limiting copays for insulin, capping out-of-pocket expenses for high deductible plans, requiring health insurers to cover preventive colorectal cancer screening, eliminating clauses hidden in pharmacy contracts that prevent a pharmacist from talking about more affordable options, requiring transparent pricing information, importing wholesale prescription drugs from Canada, and creating a board responsible for evaluating and ensuring drug prices are affordable. 

“The high price of prescriptions is having a severe impact on Rhode Islanders, particularly older residents,” said President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D – Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence). “Many older Rhode Islanders have limited means, and the high cost of prescriptions means people are cutting back on essentials, or taking less than their prescribed amount of expensive drugs.”

The package includes:
  • Cap on insulin co-pays: This legislation would limit the copay for prescription insulin to $50 for a 30-day supply for health plans that provide coverage for insulin. Additionally, the bill mandates that coverage for prescription insulin would not be subject to a deductible. The bill (2021-S 0170) is sponsored by Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D–Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).
  • Cap out-of-pocket expenses: This legislation would cap out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs at the federal minimum dollar amount for high-deductible health plans, currently $1,400 for individual plans and $2,800 for family plans.    The bill (2021-S 0381) is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D–Dist. 29, Warwick).
  • Prohibit cost-sharing on colorectal screenings and colonoscopies: This bill will save lives by requiring health insurers cover preventive colorectal cancer screening in accordance with American Cancer Society (ACA) guidelines. This coverage must be provided without cost-sharing and includes an initial screening and follow-up colonoscopy if screening results are abnormal. The ACA recommends people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. This bill (2021-S 0383) is sponsored by Senator Goodwin (D–Dist. 1, Providence).
  • Prohibit gag clauses: This bill would allow some consumers to pay less for their prescription drugs by banning gag clauses sometimes found in pharmacy contracts that prevent a pharmacist from talking to a customer about more affordable options. This bill (2021-S 0497) is sponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D–Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton).
  • Improve prescription drug transparency: This act would require pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, pharmacy benefit managers, health insurers, and hospitals to disclose certain drug pricing information. Such transparency would help payers determine whether high prescription costs are justified. This bill (2021-S 0494) is sponsored by President Ruggerio.
  • Import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada: This bill would create a state-administered program to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada, which has drug safety regulations similar to those of the United States. Such programs are allowed under federal rules, with approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This bill (2021-S 0499) is sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D–Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton).
  • Create a prescription drug affordability board: This legislation would create a prescription drug affordability board tasked with investigating and comprehensively evaluating drug prices for Rhode Islanders and possible ways to reduce them to make them more affordable. The bill (2021-S 0498) is sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D–Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).
  • Limit formulary changes: This bill aims to protect consumers from unexpected changes in their health plan’s formularies (list of covered drugs). Under this legislation, formulary changes can only be made at the time of health plan renewal, if the formulary change is made uniformly across all identical or substantially identical health plans, and if written notice is provided 60 days or more before the change. The bill (2021-S 0496) is sponsored by Senator Felag.

For more information, contact:
Greg Pare, Director of Communications for the Senate
State House Room 112
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 276-5558