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Bullock vetoes high-profile bill meant to rein in drug prices; says it would do the opposite

HELENA — A bill meant to cut the cost of prescription drugs in Montana fell victim to Gov. Steve Bullock’s veto pen Thursday, as the governor said the bill might do just the opposite.

Bullock, a Democrat, vetoed Senate Bill 71, which placed new restrictions on pharmacy-benefit managers (PBMs), such as requiring that rebates paid to the PBMs by drug manufacturers instead go to insurance companies, which would then pass on the savings to consumers.

“While this may seem like a good idea on the surface, in practice it means that smaller and nonprofit health insurance-plan customers can no longer take advantage of these rebates,” Bullock wrote in his veto message.

Bullock’s veto drew strong criticism by the bill’s primary author, Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale, and other supporters of the measure.

“It’s simply astonishing that Gov. Bullock would side with the multibillion-dollar drug companies instead of Montanans and the doctors, pharmacists and other health-care professionals who supported the bill,” Rosendale said in a statement.

PBMs and health insurers, who would have been the primary enforcers of the law through their contracts with PBMs, opposed the bill and had asked the governor to veto it.

Local pharmacists, labor unions, trial lawyers, physicians and even drug manufacturers had testified in favor of the bill.

Rosendale’s office on Thursday put out a list of statements from bill supporters, blasting the governor, including this one from Kalispell pharmacist Gary Morrison:

“I am sorry to hear that (Bullock) sold out the best interests of pharmacies and patients in Montana for political contributions from the wealthy pharmacy-benefit managers,” Morrison wrote. “Montana should expect more pharmacy failures, and patients will suffer evermore limited access to needed prescription medications. Shame on you.”

SB71 passed the Legislature by relatively wide margins, but with Bullock’s veto, it’s essentially dead.

The bill would have required insurers to enforce contracts that would modify what Rosendale said are PBM practices used to inflate the cost of drugs, such as “spread pricing” and rebates paid to PBMs by drug manufacturers to give preference to their drug.

Bullock said Thursday that other bills passed by the Legislature and signed into law will help reduce prescription-drug costs, including some that also attempt to rein in actions by PBMs.

He pointed to Senate Bill 270, which prohibits PBMs from requiring pharmacies that they charge consumers more in copayments than it costs to make the drug.

Mike Dennison

Mike Dennison

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