Below are some short summaries of a few of the bills we have passed through the house this week. If you are interested in hearing about more, you can watch my Facebook live video that I recorded on Friday here. I am doing a Facebook live video each Friday afternoon to recap the week, which you can find on my Facebook page.
The first two bills are aimed at lowering prescription drug prices.
HB 267–Prescription Drug Importation Program
Drug prices in the United States are among the highest in the world. The very same drugs we buy here are sold for far less in our neighboring countries. (Fun fact: PEHP (Public Employees Health Plan) has found that it is cheaper to fly their patients to buy some of their prescriptions in Mexico than to have the prescriptions filled in the US.) In light of this, the House passed this bill, sponsored by Representative Norm Thurston. This bill directs the Department of Health to ask the federal government for permission to create a wholesale importation program here in Utah, and allows prescription drugs to be legally imported to Utah pharmacies from Canada. Our fiscal analysts project that local government-funded health plans may see reduced expenditures in pharmacy drug costs of around $2.5 million beginning in 2020. If approved, this will be a great avenue for patients to save money on expensive drugs. HB 267 is headed to the Senate for further consideration.
HB 370–Pharmacy Benefit Manager Amendments
Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are the middle man between pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, and patients. They serve a valuable purpose, but they have not been required to be transparent. As a result, they have been able to mark up prices, require pharmacies to sell expensive formulations, and pocket rebates, among other questionable practices. This bill, which passed the House unanimously, specifies that a pharmaceutical benefit manager PMB has a fiduciary responsibility, requires transparency about rebates and administrative fees, prohibits certain billing practices, and amends the limit on the amount a PMB may require an insured customer to pay for a covered prescription drug. This is an important reform measure that will save patients money and give pharmacies more freedom to offer lower cost alternatives.
HB344–Student Asthma Relief Amendments
This is also a bill that I really like. It allows a school to make stock albuterol–a very safe, commonly prescribed asthma medication–available to certain employees and facilitates training on its use and storage. The intent is to allow qualified adults in K-12 schools to administer albuterol to students who are having an asthma attack but have misplaced or forgotten their own albuterol. It can only be given to students who are already prescribed this drug and for whom the parent(s) have set up this option with the school. Several of my children with asthma had asthma attacks at school with no albuterol available (my kids tend to be forgetful), and one ended up in the emergency room. This bill, if passed, will save other kids and parents from these scary situations. It has moved from the House to the Senate for a vote.
This bill creates a standard for free speech for students on a college or university campus. All speech will be allowed unless it is considered discriminatory harassment, which is defined as student-on-student speech that fits all the following categories: 1. is unwelcome, 2. discriminates on the basis of a classification protected under federal or state law, and 3. is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from a student’s educational experience, that the student is effectively denied access to an institution’s resource or opportunity. Utah’s higher ed community is not excited about this bill. They make the point that they are trying to foster civil dialogue and discourage bullying, and that this standard is not conducive to that. They also worry that this definition conflicts with other standards that they are using. I sympathize with their concerns; however, I voted for this bill, and am a co-sponsor. Free speech is one of our most fundamental and important freedoms. I feel the prohibition on discriminatory harassment is a good standard that the Supreme Court has upheld. At the same time, I completely support civil dialogue and would hope that we would use this freedom in productive and kind ways.
If you would like to come visit me at the Capitol and sit on the House floor, I would love the company! Also, if you have any questions you would like me to address in my Facebook live next Friday, please let me know. As always, feel free to email, call, or text me anytime.