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Lawmakers, advocates urge Youngkin to approve drug affordability board

Morris speaks at a podium as lawmakers and advocates listen
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Savannah Morris, who lives with Crohn's Disease, gives remarks about her experience as Victor McKenzie Jr., left, Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia, listens along with Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, Del. Destiny LeVere Bolling, D-Henrico, and Rhena Hicks, Freedom Virginia, on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 at Diversity Thrift in Richmond, Virginia.

The panel would review medications and place upper-payment limits on as many as 12 drugs per year.

Savannah Morris has lived with Crohn’s disease for about a decade.

On Wednesday, she and other advocates spoke at Diversity Richmond in support of two General Assembly bills that would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board in Virginia.

Morris said she’s cut back on Crohn’s medication because of its cost.

“Between paying the debt from my surgeries, college tuition and school fees, supplies for my ileostomy bag and medications related to my mental health,” Morris said, “I've had to make hard decisions about what I can and can't afford.”

A three-month supply of ileostomy materials can set her back over $2,000, she said — and that’s in addition to prescription medication she often changes to match her changing Crohn’s symptoms.

Morris joined members of Virginia for Affordable Medicine to wrap up a three-day tour to bolster support for the legislation alongside Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) and Del. Destiny LeVere Bolling (D-Henrico).

A Prescription Drug Affordability Board would have the ability to review medications and place upper-payment limits on as many as 12 drugs per year that it deems an affordability risk.

Proponents of the legislation have said it’s essential for many Virginians — and a popular policy choice. Recent polls suggest a majority of Virginians across the political spectrum support additional regulations to lower drug prices, including an affordability board.

In a Cardinal News opinion piece, Harry Gewanter — a Richmond pediatrician and former Medical Society of Virginia president — criticized the proposal, writing that the board would only have power to limit the list price of medication, not the final cost to consumers.

“Once a manufacturer sets a list price, it goes through a series of complex price negotiations within the supply chain before reaching the patient,” Gewanter wrote. “Middlemen, known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), are subcontractors hired by employers, health insurers and government agencies. PBMs determine a drug’s placement on formularies, whether there is a copay or coinsurance and how much, and what patients actually pay at the pharmacy counter.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has until April 8 to act on all remaining General Assembly legislation.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.