AG highlights efforts to keep prescription drug costs under control

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
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DePasquale DePasquale -
Fetterman Fetterman -

WILKES-BARRE — Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week urged the General Assembly to reduce Medicaid prescription costs by increasing the transparency of how pharmacy benefit managers do business.

Pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, act as middlemen between drug manufacturers and pharmacists.

Addressing the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association at the Capitol, DePasquale said many other states have already passed legislation aimed at making PBMs’ practices more transparent so that state leaders can ensure taxpayer dollars are not just lining PBMs’ pockets with no oversight.

“I believe a major part of the reform process is promoting transparency,” DePasquale said.

In December, DePasquale issued a special report — “Bringing Accountability and Transparency to Prescription Drug Pricing” — which noted that:

• Pennsylvania taxpayers paid $2.86 billion to PBMs for Medicaid enrollees in 2017.

• That marked an increase of 100 percent in just four years, up from $1.41 billion in 2013.

“Dozens of pharmacists have told me that large PBMs, many of which have ties to chain pharmacies, have consistently shortchanged local pharmacies,” DePasquale said. “They’ve done this by reducing reimbursement rates without warning, steering consumers towards more expensive pharmacies, and hiding behind a veil of secrecy.”

In February, the AG issued a follow-up report focused on manufacturer rebates passed behind the scenes between drug makers, PBMs and insurance providers — never reaching consumers.

“Instead of getting a flat fee per prescription, PBMs get a percentage of the total cost of the drug — which can have the unintended consequence of keeping lower-cost drugs from being added to their lists of covered medications,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale supported the Pharmacists Association’s push to reform the state Medicaid office’s relationship with PBMs and to eliminate all contract clauses that prevent pharmacists from talking about access to lower-cost drugs. He also called for legislation allowing the state to perform a full-scale annual review or audit of subcontracts with pharmacy benefit managers.

State Senate passes bills

to protect crime victims

The Pennsylvania Senate this week passed a package of five bills designed to provide stronger protections for crime victims and ensure they have more opportunities to participate in the judicial process.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, is among them.

SB 479, sponsored by Baker, would expand the state’s Tender Years Exception to cover testimony in cases involving child sexual abuse, child exploitation, incest, human trafficking, and other serious crimes. This exception currently applies only in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and certain specified sexual offenses.

“Children who have been abused have been violated emotionally as well as physically,” Baker said. “Providing for out-of-court statements helps remove kids from the pressure and intimidation of confronting their abuser in a situation that can easily prove overwhelming.”

In addition to Baker’s bill, the package includes:

SB 399 — which creates a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault, including rights pertaining to the collection and use of evidence.

SB 425 — which would amend the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act to ensure a victim has a right not to be excluded from a trial except in extraordinary circumstances.

SB 431 — which would prevent many sexual assault survivors from facing questions during cross examination about times they were victimized previously, such as child abuse or assaults.

SB 469 — which would extend the existing Tender Years Exception – which allows certain out-of-court statements to be admissible as evidence – to include individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism.

Nearly 16 million Americans were victimized by crime in 2016, 5.7 million of whom were victims of violent crime.

All five bills passed unanimously and came during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. They were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

DePasquale supports legislation to

prevent firearms injuries, deaths

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week joined the Moms Demand Action rally at the state Capitol and called for legislative action to reduce firearms-related deaths and injuries.

“On average, firearms violence in Pennsylvania results in four funerals each and every day,” DePasquale said. “Nearly two-thirds of the 1,500 Pennsylvanians who died in shootings in 2016 took their own lives, which speaks to the need for empowering family members to intervene when they fear a loved one is in danger.”

The issue recently received a hearing in the U.S. Senate, where Senate leaders suggested giving states incentives to enact such measures on their own.

“At least 14 other states have a so-called ‘red flag’ law on the books and some have already seen a drop in suicides,” DePasquale said. “Acting on red flags one of the ideas that my special report on firearms violence identified as a way to help save lives.”

DePasquale noted that firearm-related injuries cost Pennsylvania taxpayers about $1.5 billion in health care costs over a 10-year period because 76 percent of shooting victims were either uninsured or publicly insured.

DePasquale applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for voting to renew the Violence Against Women Act, which has been on the books for 25 years.

“The House-approved measure recognizes that a big part of preventing violence is recognizing and acting on potential threats,” DePasquale said. “We need action in Harrisburg and Washington to curb violence and save lives.”

Former inmate named

new Secretary of Pardons

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman this week announced the appointment of Brandon J. Flood as the new Secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons — taking another major step toward commonsense reforms to streamline the pardons process and improve accessibility.

Fetterman said Flood, who took the helm last week, is an outstanding example of how Pennsylvanians can prosper when given a chance and when possessing an earnest desire to move past their mistakes. The move to hire Flood signals the increased stakeholder investment the Lieutenant Governor is bringing to the pardons system.

“Brandon brings a fresh and valuable perspective to this position, particularly given the changes afoot,” Fetterman said. “His personal insight gained after being the deserving recipient of pardons can inform the direct and poignant changes we intend to make.”

Flood, whose pardon application was filed before the new Lieutenant Governor was elected, was granted pardons of three old, non-violent convictions that were signed by Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this year.

Flood, 36, was pardoned for the convictions of possession with intent to deliver cocaine when he was 17 and an unlicensed firearm violation when he was 22.

“Like many young men in our nation’s inner cities, I foolishly viewed the selling of illegal narcotics as a quick and easy way out of poverty,” he said.

Flood illegally purchased a firearm to protect himself after being shot three times by an unknown assailant in Harrisburg, and police later seized gun during a routine traffic stop.

He spent a total of nine years in prison over two sentences, and he started rehabilitating his life while serving time at SCI-Chester. He was editor of the facility’s newsletter, “The Lowdown,” and participated in programming by Temple University, including public speaking courses and debate.

Following release, he started an internship with the state House of Representatives Health & Human Services Committee and advanced his career as opportunities arose.

Working on pardons in various capacities over his tenure with the state, Flood was inspired to seek his own pardons at the encouragement of a former pardons secretary, a predecessor in the position he now holds.

As Secretary of the Board of Pardons, he’ll oversee the pardons office and meetings of the Board four times per year. A non-voting position, the Secretary processes all clemency applications, secures background checks for the applications, and presents information to the Lieutenant Governor and the four other voting members of the board.

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DePasquale
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Fetterman
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By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.