New Report on Prescription Drug Prices Supports Senator Lewis’s Proposal for Rx Pricing Reform

BOSTON, MA – While many Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs, a new survey of retail prices of commonly-prescribed medications found patients can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in some cases by shopping around at pharmacies within their communities.

MASSPIRG, Health Care For All, Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Christine Barber and others called for prescription drug pricing reform as MASSPIRG released their report, The Real Price of Medications: A Survey of Pharmaceutical Prices, revealing a wide variation in the retail pricing of prescription drugs by pharmacies large and small, urban and rural.

The report found that on average the median or typical prices for the drugs surveyed was almost 9 times higher than the lowest price found for the same medicines. In Massachusetts, for the medication esomeprazole, a generic drug to treat gastro reflux, the typical price was 1,400% higher than the lowest price. “This is an awful deal: our medications don’t work any better when we pay more for them,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG.

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs primarily because of high prices. In Massachusetts, drug spending is the second highest category of spending growth in our health care system.

Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Christine Barber outlined their new bill, cosponsored by 56 lawmakers, An Act to Ensure Prescription Drug Cost Transparency and Affordability Act (H1133/ S706) to protect consumers and rein in runaway drug prices.

“Out-of-control pharmaceutical costs are not only a major driver of increased insurance premiums, but also a threat to the quality and affordability of healthcare for economically-vulnerable people across Massachusetts, like senior citizens and low-income families,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the Senate sponsor of the bill. “This legislation is a vital first step towards improving transparency and controlling drug costs.”

The legislation uses a number of strategies that include providing transparency around the underlying costs to produce prescription drugs; restraining abuses of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs); authorizing the Health Policy Commission to set upper payment limits for unreasonably high-priced drugs; requiring pharmacists to inform consumers if purchasing a drug at the retail price would be cheaper than using health insurance; providing tools to strengthen MassHealth’s ability to negotiate lower drug prices; and permanently authorizing and funding “academic detailing,” an evidence-based prescriber education program.

“This report from MASSPIRG shows the rising costs and lack of transparency over how prescription drugs are priced, which creates a burden on families and small businesses, as well as the state’s budget for MassHealth,” said Rep. Barber, the legislation’s lead House sponsor. “Our bill aims to make prescription drugs affordable and available for Massachusetts consumers by increasing transparency for drug pricing and making the pharmaceutical industry accountable, as we all work to control health care costs.”

“The concept of shared responsibility has been fundamentally important to the health care success story in Massachusetts. Hospitals, insurers, businesses, providers, and consumers have all made meaningful sacrifices to ensure the people of the Commonwealth have the coverage they need and that we work to bring down costs. Each of these entities has put some real skin in the game, but the pharmaceutical industry has not. It is time that they step up and be part of the solution,” said Amy Rosenthal, executive director of Health Care For All.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund surveyed more than 250 pharmacies in 11 states, including Massachusetts, for cash prices on 12 common drugs. Researchers found that consumers face a dizzying array of price differences:

  • Patients could save from $102 – $5,400 a year between minimum and median prices of the selected medications by shopping around.
  • Prescription drug price variation appeared disconnected from where the medicines were sold in urban and rural locations across many states; the median price for the surveyed brand and generic drugs varied an average of 892 percent from the cheapest available price.
  • Switching from brand name drugs to generic alternatives can help save money. For example, switching from the brand acid reflux medication Nexium to its generic could save a patient an estimated $756 annually.
  • Brand name drugs did not adjust to competition from generic drugs, even years after they entered the market. For instance, patients who switch from branded Lipitor to its generic could save an estimated $3,927 annually.
  • Large chain pharmacies tend to have higher prices than their small chain or independent counterparts, despite having more leverage in the marketplace. Eight of the 12 drugs in the survey had higher median prices of 8.8 percent to 840 percent at large chains compared to small or independent pharmacies.
  • In Massachusetts, the survey found that Atorvastatin (the generic of Lipitor, a blood pressure medication) had a price variation of 1100% from the typical price to the lowest. In this case, shopping around for the lowest price could save patients $1200/year.

Senator Lewis Appointed to Chair Education Committee

BOSTON, MA – Senate President Karen Spilka announced last week that Senator Jason Lewis has been appointed Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education in the Massachusetts Legislature. Senator Lewis was also appointed to a leadership position on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for crafting the annual state budget and reviewing most fiscal and policy matters.

“I’m excited to Chair the Education Committee, since the challenge of ensuring adequate and equitable funding for public schools was the issue that first motivated me to run for the state legislature,” said Senator Lewis. “While we should celebrate the Commonwealth’s national leadership in student performance and educational excellence, we must also redouble our efforts to address unacceptable achievement and opportunity gaps that plague our low-income students, students of color, and English language learners. It is both a moral and economic imperative that we address these fundamental inequities.”

Several years ago, Senator Lewis filed legislation that created the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC). This bipartisan commission spent a year studying school finance issues and received input from education stakeholders across Massachusetts. The FBRC’s 2015 report confirmed the gaps in the foundation budget and estimated that we are shortchanging our public schools by $1-2 billion annually, with the greatest harm being done to our poorest communities.

In the years since, the state Senate has twice passed legislation to implement the recommendations of the FBRC. Unfortunately, at the end of the previous legislative session in 2018, the House and Senate were unable to reach final agreement on the details of the necessary changes to the foundation budget and Chapter 70 formula. Leaders from Beacon Hill and beyond have all indicated that fixing the formula is a top priority this year, and as Senate Chair of the Education Committee, Senator Lewis will play a key role in deliberation and negotiations on any education funding legislation.

Senator Lewis was also appointed Vice Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, where he served last legislative session as committee chairman, accomplishing major policy achievements like the passage of a $15 per hour minimum wage and the adoption of paid family and medical leave statewide. He plans to continue his work to foster economic justice and greater opportunity for working families across the Commonwealth.

Senator Lewis was appointed to serve on the Community Development and Small Businesses Committee, where he intends to use his role to continue to advocate for downtown revitalization in the communities of the Fifth Middlesex District and supporting small businesses throughout Massachusetts. Additionally, he will serve as a member of the Marijuana Policy Committee, as the Legislature continues to guide the safe implementation of legal adult-use cannabis in the state.

Column: Now is the Time to Finally Fix the School Funding Formula in Massachusetts

John Adams said, “Laws for liberal education of youth… are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” In drafting the Massachusetts state constitution (the oldest written constitution still in use anywhere in the world), Adams recognized that education is indispensable to the success and prosperity of a society, which is why he enshrined a right to education in this foundational document.

The landmark Education Reform Act of 1993 put in place a funding formula, known as Chapter 70, that was designed to ensure that every school district in Massachusetts would be fairly and adequately funded and every student would have access to a quality education. First, a “foundation budget” is calculated for each school district to determine the resources needed to educate the students in that district. Then, the “local contribution,” the amount that each municipality must contribute from its own revenues, is calculated based upon local income levels and property values. Finally, the state government allocates Chapter 70 aid annually to fill the gap between the foundation budget and the required local contribution. Additionally, if it so chooses, each community can put more of its local resources toward education if it wants to spend an amount greater than the foundation budget.

This formula worked well through the 1990s, with progress made in reducing inequities in school funding and closing student achievement gaps. However, we have been backsliding since 2000 because the foundation budget has become outdated and no longer accurately reflects the true costs to educate our young people in the 21st Century. This is due to a variety of factors, including rapidly rising healthcare costs, greater special education needs, underestimating the challenges faced by students from high poverty neighborhoods and non-native English language speakers, and more.

When I was a State Representative, I filed legislation that created the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC). This bipartisan commission spent a year studying school finance issues and received input from education stakeholders across Massachusetts. The FBRC’s 2015 report confirmed the gaps in the foundation budget and estimated that we are shortchanging our public schools by $1-2 billion annually, with the greatest harm being done to our poorest communities.

In the years since, the state Senate has twice passed legislation to implement the recommendations of the FBRC. Unfortunately, at the end of the previous legislative session in 2018, the House and Senate were unable to reach final agreement on the details of the necessary changes to the foundation budget and Chapter 70 formula. With the start of the new legislative session last month, I’m pleased that the House, Senate and Governor Baker have all indicated that fixing the formula is a top priority this year.

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz has re-filed legislation known as the Education PROMISE Act, and I’m proud to co-sponsor and help champion the passage of this bill. It would fully implement all the recommendations of the FBRC, which would lead to major improvements in the adequacy and equity of school funding in the Commonwealth. In addition to passing the Education PROMISE Act, we will also need to raise additional funding to enable the state to fully meet its obligations. This is why I’m committed to leading the effort to pass the Fair Share Amendment or millionaire’s tax in Massachusetts (more on this initiative in a future column).

Our students, schools, and communities can’t wait any longer for us to fix the school funding formula. We must get it done this year.

Senator Lewis Shares 2019-2020 Legislative Agenda

BOSTON, MA – Last month, Senator Jason Lewis filed dozens of bills for the 2019-2020 legislative session.

“I’m excited to champion a bold legislative agenda for the 2019-2020 legislative session,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I filed 98 bills that would advance equality, opportunity, justice, and sustainability for our communities and the entire Commonwealth. I’m also pleased to co-sponsor several hundred bills filed by my Senate and House colleagues.”

The bills Senator Lewis filed address many policy areas and issues, including shared prosperity, education and childcare, healthcare and wellness, a sustainable future, and social justice. To read more about individual bills, please follow the links below.

Link: Shared Prosperity  |  Link: Education & Childcare

Senator Lewis to Lead Working Group on Federal Government Shutdown

BOSTON — Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) joined with Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester) on Thursday to announce a seven-member, bipartisan working group to examine the challenges facing the Commonwealth in light of the federal government shutdown, as well as to develop creative ways to help those Massachusetts families impacted.

“This shutdown has gone on far longer than expected, and, as a result, Massachusetts families and our economy could start to encounter serious challenges,” said Senate President Spilka. “Creating this bipartisan working group will allow us to effectively strategize ways to protect and care for individuals and families affected by the government shutdown, while also preparing for the long-term implications for our economy.”

“The federal shutdown is already having serious consequences for public employees struggling to pay their bills without paychecks, it also holds a looming possibility of far reaching impacts for our state and our economy,” said Minority Leader Tarr. “While it will hopefully end soon, we shouldn’t wait to consider the actions our state government may need to take to confront and prevent harm to the people of the Commonwealth in the face of this unprecedented situation.  This bipartisan work group will do just that.”

“I don’t think anybody expected that the federal government could be shut down for this long or that we could be facing such serious consequences for so many families and small businesses, not to mention impacts on public health and safety,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “We all hope that this shutdown will end very soon but in the meantime we must assess the harmful impacts on Massachusetts and what steps our state government can take immediately to help mitigate these impacts.”

Working group members will examine ways to help struggling families and individuals find relief and meet their basic needs, including groceries, housing and childcare. It will also evaluate proposals designed to extend unemployment insurance (UI), as well as attempt to assess coming challenges to the Commonwealth if the shutdown continues.

The working group, which will be chaired by Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester), consists of Senator Michael D. Brady (D-Brockton), Joanne M. Comerford (D-Northampton), Viriato deMacedo (R-Plymouth), Donald F. Humason Jr. (R-Westfield), Senator Patricia D. Jehlen (D-Somerville), and Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury).

Nearly 8,000 federal workers in Massachusetts have been out of work since the government shutdown began on December 22, 2018. The shutdown is the longest in U.S. history.

Senator Lewis Files Legislation to Revive the Fair Share Amendment

BOSTON — On Friday, State Senator Jason Lewis (5th Middlesex District) and State Representative James O’Day (14th Worcester District) filed legislation in the State Senate and State House of Representatives to revive the “Fair Share Amendment,” a proposed Massachusetts constitutional amendment that could generate as much as $2 billion in new revenue to support the state’s education and transportation systems.

The Fair Share Amendment would add a surtax of four percentage points on annual taxable income that is above $1 million. The new revenue generated by the tax would be invested in public schools, more affordable public colleges and universities, and the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation. To ensure that the tax continues to apply only to the highest-income taxpayers, the $1 million threshold would be adjusted each year to reflect cost-of-living increases.

Right now, the highest-income households in Massachusetts – those in the top 1 percent – pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than does any other income group. Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of income inequality of any state in the nation. The best way to help working families and build a stronger economy for all is to make sure that we have quality public schools for all children, affordable public higher education, and a world-class transportation system.

In 2015, Raise Up Massachusetts launched a campaign for the Fair Share Amendment by collecting more than 157,000 signatures from Massachusetts voters. In May 2016 and again in June 2017, the state legislature, meeting jointly in a Constitutional Convention, voted overwhelmingly to advance the citizen’s initiative proposal and place it on the 2018 ballot.

The Fair Share Amendment was supported by a large majority of Massachusetts voters in repeated public polling, but was challenged by a lawsuit and then removed from the ballot by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. However, the basis for that disqualification was narrow, and does not apply to a legislative version of the amendment.

“The $2 billion in new revenue that this proposal would raise would go a long way in helping to fix crumbling roads and bridges, improving service on the MBTA and other public transportation, increasing funding for public schools, expanding access to quality early childhood education, and making higher education more affordable for students and families” said Senator Jason Lewis, the bill’s sponsor in the State Senate. “It’s also the best way to raise revenue that would make our tax system fairer and more progressive, rather than increasing taxes on middle class families who cannot afford to pay more.”

“The Fair Share Amendment would be critical to our Commonwealth’s investment in infrastructure, transportation and education – all of which are key to social mobility in the State of Massachusetts,” said Representative James O’Day. “The highest-income households in Massachusetts – those in the top 1 percent – pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes compared to other income groups. A tax system like this would alleviate the burden on middle-class families who are struggling to pay more.”

O’Day and Lewis both cited their strong desire to return the decision on the amendment to voters—an opportunity taken away by the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2018 decision—so that the citizens of Massachusetts can decide if the Fair Share Amendment is the best approach for raising necessary revenues, making the tax system fairer, and supporting transportation and education investments across the Commonwealth.

Gender Equity Bill Signed, Ensuring Fair Coverage in Disability Insurance

BOSTON — A bill filed by State Representative Ruth Balser and State Senator Jason Lewis to prevent gender discrimination in disability insurance was signed into law Thursday by Governor Charlie Baker.

In the state-regulated individual insurance market, women pay more than men for the same disability insurance benefits. Filings with the Division of Insurance show that women in Massachusetts pay more for the same disability insurance benefits than men in the same occupation class. This is true across the board, regardless of the insurance company, the age of the purchaser, the occupation class, the duration of benefits, whether long-term or short-term disability insurance. In every case, women pay more. On average, women pay 23.5% more than men. However, sometimes it is even more than that. Under some policies, women pay 61% more than men.

The bill prohibits insurers from charging higher disability insurance premiums based solely on gender, race, religion, or national origin. Currently, state-regulated disability insurance is classified by sex, and filings at the Division of Insurance show different premiums for men and women with the same job classification. For example, male nurses pay less than female nurses for the same disability policy. The new law will address this disparity.

“Women’s rights groups have been working to eliminate gender discrimination in insurance since the 1970s when Massachusetts adopted the Equal Rights amendment to the state constitution.  Slowly and incrementally, Massachusetts has eliminated gender disparities in most insurance products including automobile, homeowners, health, and annuities,” said Representative Ruth Balser, the lead House sponsor of the bill. “Today we have eliminated the unfair practice of charging women more than men for the same disability protection.  Many thanks to the large coalition of groups led by the Mass Commission on the Status of Women, the legislature, and the Governor for insisting that Massachusetts continues to lead when it comes to ensuring equality for all.”

“On the long march to gender equality, the passage of this bill is another step forward,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the bill’s lead sponsor in the state Senate. “Thank you to Rep. Balser and the advocates who worked tirelessly for many years to pass this legislation; it will improve fairness and lower insurance premiums for tens of thousands of women in Massachusetts.”

Nina Kimball, the Chair of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, said: “The Commission on the Status of Women commends Governor Baker for signing this bill that will finally bring equality to women purchasing disability insurance, ensuring an end to gender discriminatory pricing in the Commonwealth — which for years have prevented many women from being able to afford disability insurance that could protect them and their families when a medical crisis arises.

“MA has much to be proud of in the passage of the Equitable Disability Insurance Bill,” Kimball continued. “We are only the second state in the nation to eliminate gender discrimination in disability insurance. This is no small feat. And no small change for women of the Commonwealth. Now instead of having to make the horrifying decision to risk economic stability because insurance costs are out of reach, women will be able to protect themselves and their families. Women will be able to care for themselves and ensure economic security for their families at the most vulnerable time of illness and injury.”

Please fill out our brief constituent feedback survey

BOSTON — With a new legislative session beginning in January, State Senator Jason Lewis is preparing his policy agenda and priorities, and is seeking feedback from constituents on the issues that are most important to them and their families.

Senator Lewis invites you to fill out a brief survey, which can be found at this link. The survey should only take a few minutes to complete and all responses will be anonymous.

To gather further input from his constituents, Senator Lewis will be holding a “virtual town hall” in January. During a Facebook live-stream on January 8 at 6:00 pm, he will discuss the survey results and take questions and feedback from the online audience.

Constituents may also contact Senator Lewis anytime by phone at (617) 722-1206 or by email at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov with any concerns to bring to his attention or feedback to share with him on any issue.

Senator Lewis Submits Testimony on National Grid Bill

A letter from Senator Jason Lewis to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy:

December 4, 2018

The Honorable Michael J. Barrett
Senate Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy

The Honorable Thomas A. Golden
House Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy

Dear Chair Barrett and Chair Golden:

Please accept this correspondence as my testimony in support of House Bill 4960, An Act relative to the employment of certain workers by National Grid.

As we in the Legislature grapple with the multiple explosions in Merrimack Valley on September 13th of this year caused by over-pressurized gas mains, we need to think long and hard about how the Commonwealth’s gas infrastructure is operated. While natural gas is a tool by which so many heat their homes, cook food, and get hot water, we were reminded on September 13th of how dangerous it can be when not handled with care.

When the United Steel Workers were locked out on June 24th by National Grid, good workers with vast amounts of experience were put on the sideline. USW offered to extend their contract while bargaining continues but National Grid refused. Instead, National Grid decided to sideline those workers and take away their wages and benefits in an effort to gain leverage in negotiations. It is unfortunate that National Grid is utilizing such a tactic. It is a bad faith negotiation tactic and it endangers the citizens of my district and the Commonwealth.

This legislation would deny public funds, including chapter 90 money, to National Grid for use on gas infrastructure work and would prevent National Grid from seeking any increases in rates. Most importantly, this legislation would ensure that the locked out workers receive health insurance so that they receive needed care that we all should expect. If passed into law, the provisions of this bill would last until the end of the lockout, which I hope will come soon.

I respectfully request the Committee to vote favorably on this legislation as soon as possible. Please do not hesitate to contact my office should you require any further information.

Sincerely,

Jason M. Lewis

Senator Lewis Accepting Applications for 2019 Winter/Spring State House Internships

Senator Jason Lewis is looking for civic-minded individuals interested in a winter-spring internship in his State House office. State Senator Jason Lewis proudly represents the people of the Fifth Middlesex District of Massachusetts, which includes the cities and towns of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and parts of Winchester. He has been a leader in shaping public policy on a range of issues important to his district, region and the state, including healthcare, education, and economic opportunity for all.

Interns will have the unique opportunity to experience policymaking, politics and government from the inside. Although unpaid, interns will obtain meaningful experience by witnessing and participating in the day-to-day functioning of a State Senate office.

Interns will report mainly to Lizzi Tran, Constituent Affairs Director, and will be responsible for assisting with a variety of tasks, ranging from constituent correspondence to legislative research to database management to communications and social media projects. In addition, interns will have the opportunity to attend events, hearings, and meetings in the State House. Interns in Senator Lewis’ office will gain the satisfaction of serving the Commonwealth and will be able to add valuable experience to their resume.

Interns must have excellent written and verbal communication skills, a high level of attention to detail, and good overall professionalism. Candidates must also be comfortable with Microsoft Office, Google applications, and major social media platforms. Preference will be given to college students and young adults, but high school students will also be considered. Winter/Spring internships generally span from late January to early April. Hours are negotiable, ranging from 10-14 hours per week.

Candidates with a particular interest in communications, public relations, graphic design, video production or social media should indicate so in their application.

Candidates should send a resume, brief letter of interest, and writing sample to Elizabeth.Tran@masenate.gov by Friday, January 4, 2019. References should be available upon request. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, so interested parties are encouraged to apply promptly. With questions, please call (617) 722-1206.