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Wisconsin Assembly takes on prescription-drug prices

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A bipartisan proposal designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs and ensure there’s access to medicine in Wisconsin cleared the state Assembly on Tuesday, a step lawmakers said they hope is just the beginning of attempts to rein in rising prices.

The proposal 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 give rise to a system in which drugmakers, middlemen called pharmacy-benefit managers and health-care providers all benefit from increasing prices.

The bill approved unanimously on Tuesday is meant to rein in pharmacy-benefit managers, who are a part of the distribution and sales chain between manufacturers and consumers. They negotiate drug prices on behalf of insurers and employers, manage plans and process claims. But most of their work and the terms of the agreements they reach are hidden from the people who are paying for prescriptions.

The goal of the proposal is to offer transparency and protections to consumers and small pharmacies. Lawmakers and advocates, including groups representing consumers, say that although the legislation is not perfect, it’s a step forward.

“It could be improved and it will be,” said Democratic Rep. Deb Kolste, of Janesville, ahead of the debate on Tuesday. “This bill is better than what we have now.”

Rep. Michael Schraa, a Republican from 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 would subject pharmacy-benefit managers to regulation by the state insurance commissioner. There would also be a prohibition on gag clauses now often found in contracts with pharmacy-benefit managers, ensuring pharmacists could tell customers about cheaper options, including the possibility of paying cash if the amount owed would be less than their insurance co-payment. There would also be fewer instances when pharmacy-benefit managers could deny a claim.

If the proposal were enacted, Wisconsin would join 40 other states that have some form of regulation for the industry.

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