MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A bipartisan measure designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs and ensure there's access to needed medicine in Wisconsin cleared the state Assembly on Tuesday, with lawmakers saying they hope it's just the beginning of efforts to address rising prices.
The measure is part of a growing call nationwide to do something about rapidly increasing prices and difficulties in obtaining needed prescription drugs. A lack of transparency has created a system in which drugmakers, middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers and health care providers all benefit from increasing prices.
The bill approved unanimously Tuesdaytargets pharmacy benefit managers, who are a critical part of the distribution and sales chain between manufacturer and consumer. They negotiate drug prices on behalf of insurers and employers, manage plans and process claims. But most of their work and terms of the agreements they reach are hidden to people paying for prescriptions.
The goal of the proposal is to offer more transparency and protections for consumers and small pharmacies. Lawmakers and advocates, including groups representing consumers, say that while it's not perfect, the bill is a step forward.
“It could be improved and it will be,” said Democratic Rep. Deb Kolste, of Janesville, ahead of Tuesday's debate. “This bill is better than what we have now.”
Republican Rep. Michael Schraa, of Oshkosh, called the bill a good start and a “foot in the door.”
“This has been a 12-round boxing match, in my opinion," 'he said. "It’s been hard fought but we finally got to a bill I think will benefit all of our constituents.”
The proposal requires pharmacy benefit managers to be regulated by the state insurance commissioner. Gag clauses in pharmacy benefit manager contracts would be prohibited, thereby allowing pharmacists to tell customers about cheaper options, including paying cash if that's less than their insurance co-payment. There would also be fewer instances where pharmacy benefit managers could deny a claim.
Wisconsin would join 40 other states that have some form of regulation for the industry if the measure is enacted. It must also pass the Senate and be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers before becoming law.
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