Periodic Update: New state law effort to curb prescription drug price gouging

Periodic Update: New state law effort to curb prescription drug price gouging

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-8) -

A law approved by the 2017 General Assembly to curb prescription drug gouging became effective on Oct. 1 this year. Stepping ahead of a Congress that won't act on the matter, Maryland enacted a law that enables the state to sue drug companies over unreasonable price hikes of 50 percent or more in a single year. If the company cannot justify the price hike, the State Attorney General can file suit and have it reversed. Manufacturers also face a fine of $10,000 for price gouging. It is the first law of its kind in the state.

Although Maryland's law is the strongest drug transparency law in the country, it applies only to generic drugs. A generic drug is any prescription for which all exclusive marketing rights have expired. According to the FDA, generic drugs are typically 80 to 85 percent less expensive than their brand-name equivalents. While generics make up 90 percent of the prescriptions in the U.S., they constitute only 27 percent of total drug spending.

It should be noted that because of its sole focus on generic drugs, the Maryland law cannot do anything about branded drugs, such as EpiPen or Evzio, an overdose-reversing drug, whose prices have skyrocketed. Since 2007, EpiPen, a life saving treatment for millions whose allergies can send them into severe shock, has increased in price 548 percent to $608.61 for a pack of two doses.

Other states have also taken action to confront drug companies' fleecing of Americans. California passed legislation requiring drug manufacturers to disclose and justify price hikes of more than 16 percent over two years. Similar legislation is pending approval in Massachusetts, Nevada, Tennessee and Rhode Island.

In 2016, Vermont enacted the first state drug transparency legislation, empowering the state's Attorney General to ask drug manufacturers to justify price increases and to bring legal action if the manufacturer does not comply. Non-compliance subjects the manufacturer to a $10,000 civil penalty.

Americans pay the highest price for prescription drugs already. Sudden, huge price spikes add insult to injury and put vital drugs out of reach of many people who need them. All other nations bargain with drug manufacturers to get the lowest price for their citizens. But the U.S. is legally prohibited from bargaining with drug manufacturers to get the lowest price by the Medicare Prescription Part D law. That makes no sense whatsoever. It makes U.S. citizens the helpless victims of drug companies.

The states' battle to stop prescription drug price gouging is a David-and-Goliath battle. The pharmaceutical industry has very deep pockets and has successfully fought off California's initiative to cap what the state pays for drugs. The effort to control runaway prescription drug prices is a federal battle because drugs still under patent are under federal jurisdiction. Unfortunately, up to this point, Congress has shown no desire to tackle this crucial problem that affects the health care of Americans.

Please do not hesitate to contact me on this or any other issue of concern to you. Your input is important to me. It enables me to bring your voice to Annapolis. I encourage and value your input.

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Marks and Kach Announce Funding for Crosswalk at Pine Grove Middle

Marks and Kach Announce Funding for Crosswalk at Pine Grove Middle

(Updated 10/6/17)

- By Councilman David Marks (R-5) -

Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach and I announced Monday, Oct. 2, that a brick crosswalk will be constructed to improve safety at Pine Grove Middle School. The $25,000 crosswalk will be built by the end of the year at Proctor Lane and Old Harford Road in Carney.

Kristen Piscopo is president of the Perring Park Community Association and a parent of a student at the school.

“This project should at least slow some of the traffic along Old Harford Road,” Piscopo commented. “I would like to thank Pine Grove Middle School for its support, as well as Councilmembers David Marks and Wade Kach for their help in securing the funding. Senator Kathy Klausmeier discussed the need for better public safety during National Night Out on Aug. 1, and also walked with our Perring Park Citizens on Patrol on Sept. 18.”

Councilman Marks was a sponsor of the legislation that gave greater flexibility to communities where there is support for traffic calming.

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Bevins announces that her office has successfully handled 5,000 constituent cases

(Updated 10/6/17)

- By Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6) -

I was elected promising to make your priorities my priorities, and since 2010 my office has successfully handled over 5,000 constituent issues.

This is a really big deal for me because when I first ran for office I promised to focus on constituent services and making your priorities my priorities. So it is nice to see my office has been able to help so many people.

For the 5,000th case, my office was able to assist a senior citizen couple get Americans with Disabilities (ADA)-compliant ramps installed on their street. I was contacted by Mr. Ginsburg who asked for assistance with his street, Woodside Avenue in Parkville. He asked if it was possible for the county to install ramps on the corners along Woodside Avenue so that his wife, who is handicapped, could access her mailbox and visit Double Rock Park.

Upon receiving this request, I reached out to the Baltimore County Department of Public Works (DPW) asking if it was possible to install the ADA-compliant ramps on the sidewalk in front of the Ginsburg’s residence. Within days, DPW investigated and approved the installation of the ADA compliant ramps. A few weeks later, crews from DPW were dispatched to install the ramps. Not only did DPW install ramps in front of the Ginsburg’s home, they installed ADA-complaint ramps on eight corners along Woodside Ave.

The Ginsburgs said they were “shocked” that the county installed the ramps and acted so quickly. They did not think they would be able to get the ramps and thought contacting the county was a “waste of time.” This is an example of government being responsive and working for the people. I am happy I was able to work with the administration to make the Ginsburgs request a reality.

Upon being elected in 2010, I instituted a tracking system for constituent issues in my office. The system set up by the Baltimore County Office of Information Technology assigns a tracking number to every constituent issue my office receives. This allows us to easily track the progress of each issue, forward it to the appropriate county agency and to follow up with the constituent. The system allows me to search by issue and zip code enabling us to identify the types of issues constituents are having and where those issue are occurring.

This makes it easier for me to identify those areas where issues are constantly occurring and to monitor any drop or increase in problems. I am then able to use this information to be proactive in requesting resources and funding to target those areas or issues.

Prior to being elected to the County Council, I served as the east-side constituent services coordinator under former County Executive Jim Smith. In that capacity, I was responsible for all the constituent issues in eastern Baltimore County. During this time, I gained a great appreciation for the value and importance of consistent services.

A large part of my job as a Councilwoman is constituent services, which is about working together to solve problems. Constituent services is not partisan; there is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the trash or fix a pothole. I hope that when someone contacts my office with a problem, issue or suggestion, they can be comforted by the fact that we will look into the issue for them and respond.

My opponent's conflict of interest

(Updated 10/6/17)

- By Delegate Pat McDonough, candidate for Baltimore County Executive -

Al Redmer, candidate for Baltimore County Executive, has a giant conflict of interest. Every individual or business in Maryland has insurance coverage and insurance commissioner Redmer is their chief regulator. How can he honestly ask them for money or votes while he is regulating them? This situation is clearly a conflict of interest!

I have introduced legislation that will prohibit the Maryland Insurance Commissioner from running for an elected office unless he/she resigns. Similar legislation was introduced in the General Assembly in the State Senate last year, but failed to make it through the session successfully because of time restraints. I will pre-file my legislation early to help ensure its passage.

It could be argued that Mr. Redmer’s campaign is being partially funded by the taxpayers because they pay his six figure salary. Maryland citizens do not deserve a part-time insurance commissioner, especially when massive changes are coming into our state healthcare insurance system. Al Redmer cares more about his pocket than the public interest and the need for a full-time commissioner. Mr. Redmer was asked recently by a reporter from the Baltimore Business Journal if dedicating his time to the campaign would impact his duties and responsibility as insurance commissioner. He responded by jokingly saying the campaign “was like a hobby.” I would caution Al that people of Baltimore County and the executive position are not hobbies.

Some people may ask if I should resign my House of Delegates position because I am a candidate for Baltimore County Executive. In essence, I am giving up my position by not seeking re-election to a “safe seat” in the House of Delegates. In addition, there is a major difference between a constitutionally elected representative and an appointed state bureaucrat. I do not regulate anyone directly, except to vote on legislation with 187 other lawmakers. When it comes to direct regulation and enforcement, Redmer has the power which creates conflict.

I believe under current law that Commissioner Redmer is already required to step down. There will be legal advice provided in the near future that may lead to court action. Common sense dictates that Maryland requires a full-time insurance commissioner. How do we know whether or not Al Redmer is making political phone calls during office hours or campaigning around the county during work time? There is no existing process that would allow the citizens to monitor this situation. Al Redmer has the right to seek public office, but not the right to engage in a conflict of interest and receive a six-figure, taxpayer-financed paycheck while campaigning.

Gunpowder Valley Conservancy honors Marks, Perry as 'Green Heroes'

Gunpowder Valley Conservancy honors Marks, Perry as 'Green Heroes'
Pictured are GVC Board member Jim Martin (left), Peggy Perry and Councilman Marks.

(Updated 9/14/17)

At its annual fundraiser, the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy named Baltimore County Councilman David Marks (R-5) and longtime GVC official Peggy Perry as its "Heroes of the Green." The award recognizes outstanding leadership in preserving and improving the Gunpowder River Valley.

Councilman Marks has served northeastern Baltimore County since 2010. During his tenure, he blocked the development of 11 acres to the north of the Maryland State Fish and Game Protective Association, adding that land to Honeygo Run Regional Park, and lightened future development on thousands of acres in his district.

Peggy Perry is the program director of Education and Restoration at the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy. She has helped direct major en​vironmental improvement projects at Jennifer Run in Carney and at the Maryland State Fish and Game Protective Association in Perry Hall.

"The Gunpowder Valley Conservancy is one of the most successful environmental advocacy groups in central Maryland. It has been a highlight of my Council tenure to work with them on land preservation and water quality projects," Councilman Marks commented. "Congratulations to Peggy for her well-deserved recognition, and thank you to the many supporters of the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy."​

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Periodic Update: Vaccinations are imperative to protect all children

(Updated 9/11/17)

- By Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-8) -

Vaccinating children against diseases such as measles and whooping cough protects all other children with whom they come in contact. Measles is a highly infectious, acute viral illness that threatens people who are not vaccinated. Measles can cause deafness, loss of vision and brain damage. Both measles and whopping cough can cause death.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that if parents continue to refuse vaccinations despite exhaustive efforts to change their minds, it would be acceptable for doctors to exclude those families from their practice. U.S. pediatricians confront a rising number of parents who refuse to have their children immunized. In 2015, 87 percent of pediatricians were challenged by parental refusal to have their children immunized, up from 75 percent in 2006.

The nation's pediatricians have called on the states to stop offering waivers to those with non-medical objections to vaccinations. Although all states require schoolchildren to be immunized against a broad range of diseases, 48 states, including Maryland, allow parents to opt out if they have a religious objection and 18 states allow opting out for personal or moral reasons. When one considers the contagiousness of measles, it's understandable why pediatricians object to any opt-out for non-medical reasons. California, West Virginia and Mississippi do not allow non-medical exemptions for vaccines.

No two ways about it, states that have lenient exemption policies have lower immunization rates. And these are the states where the measles and whooping cough outbreaks occur. The 2015 measles outbreak in Disneyland spread to 131 people in California and 147 people in 11 states. If an unvaccinated person who contracts measles lives in an area with no vaccination program, they can trigger a measles outbreak within 42 days that spreads to more than 6,000 people. About 28 percent of those people will die. Before vaccinations began in 1963, 3 - 4 million people contracted measles in the U.S. Of that number, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized and 400 developed brain swelling.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine works and has a 50-year safety record that is hailed as one of the safest and most effective medical advancements in history. Pediatric chiefs of every major hospital in the state, as well as the Baltimore County Department of Health, are emphatic in urging vaccination for all children. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that children receive the MMR vaccine at age 12 - 15 months and again at 4 - 6 years. Maryland's MMR vaccination rate among school age children is 97 percent, above the national average of 92 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that only 1 - 2 percent of children nationwide are not vaccinated.

In 2000, measles was declared just about eliminated. There had been no transmissions of measles from one person to another for one year. However, as exemption policies were adopted by the states, measles outbreaks began to occur. In 2015, the U.S. experienced 644 cases of measles in 27 states and 23 outbreaks. For the sake of safety for all children, MMR vaccines should not be denied or delayed.

Please do not hesitate to contact me on this or any other issue of concern to you. As always, I encourage and welcome your input.

REMINDER: A hiring event will be held Friday, Sept. 15, at the Eastpoint location office of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (7930 Eastern Ave. in Dundalk) from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Some of the major employers attending the event include: AMVETS, SYSCO, UPS, Southwest Air, Marriott Hotels, Allied Universal, Cardinal Health, Kennedy Krieger and representatives from various state agencies.

Message from the Councilwoman

(Updated 9/8/17)

- By Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6) -

Summer is ending and school is starting. Students and teachers are returning to their classrooms for the 2017-2018 school year. I am very excited that this year all Sixth District Schools are air conditioned. Upon taking office in 2010 the Sixth District had the highest percentage of schools without air conditioning in the county. However when those schools opened their doors on Sept. 5, that was no longer the case.

Upon taking office I visited every school in the district. And after listening to students, teachers and parents I made the renovation of our schools a priority. I worked with fellow Council members, principals and parents in advocating to the Baltimore County Board of Education and the County Administration the need to put air conditioning in all Sixth District school classrooms.

The challenge of achieving this goal was made more difficult after the 2014 redistricting of the Baltimore County Councilmanic Districts. In 2014 four more schools were added to District 6 that did not have air conditioning. However, through advocacy to the Baltimore County Board of Education these schools were made a priority for air conditioning funding, and within three years all had central air conditioning installed.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this issue; some are upset that it has taken so long for their child’s school to have air conditioning while others argued that air conditioning is not essential to learning. For me this issue has always been about fairness. It was unfair that depending on the school they attended some students were able to enjoy the benefits of air conditioning while others could not. Now every public school student, teacher, support staff and volunteer in the Sixth District will be on a level playing field and will have the opportunity to learn and teach in a comfortable classroom.

I want to thank all of the students, teachers, principals and parents who made air conditioning at all Sixth District schools a reality. Such an achievement could not have been realized without their efforts and advocacy.

Where is the Board of Education?

(Updated 9/4/17)

- By Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6) -

On June 13, I was joined by the District Six State Delegation and County Councilman Todd Crandell in speaking out against the violence and lack of discipline in our school system. I resubmit a portion of that joint press release:

“Most immediately, the Board should conduct a public hearing as soon as possible so parents can be heard. The Board needs to hear what we as elected representatives are hearing. This discussion should continue throughout the summer so schools can plan now in order to address students and parents when doors re-open in the fall. A letter requesting such a public hearing has been sent to the Board.”

“... We strongly believe our school system is in need of a discipline policy overhaul and a better enforcement model. What has been described to us as 'sweeping it under the rug so the numbers look better' is not sound policy, especially when the safety of both students and faculty is clearly at risk.”

The week thereafter, Mychael Dickerson, the Baltimore County Public Schools spokesperson, entirely dismissed our concerns as rumors that were spread via social media.

We asked clearly and specifically that the concerns expressed to us from students, parents and teachers not be swept under the rug. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened.

Given a chance to speak at a public hearing, the concerns of a large and growing number of citizens could be shared and understood. Three months have passed and we have not had a public hearing. Fall is here, schools are about to reopen, no planning has been executed and the entire issue has been written off as hearsay by the “Education Establishment” in Towson.

While I am not surprised by this response, I am frustrated at the fact that none of the representatives on the Board of Education are pressing for a public hearing on violence and discipline. I am frequently told by students, parents and teachers that they feel they have no voice on the Board of Education and this lack of action seems to be another clear example of that.

I will always remember a conversation with a teacher from our district at the yearly Teachers Association of Baltimore County breakfast. Her story about the lack of control and discipline at her school was passionate, urgent and a bit desperate. She ended it by saying “what we are doing isn’t working.” Today I reiterate that “what we are doing isn’t working.” I write - again - to ask the Board of Education to hold a public hearing regarding violence, bullying and discipline in our school system.

All schools in northeast now air conditioned

(Updated 9/1/17)

- By Councilman David Marks (R-5) -

After a recent tour of Chapel Hill Elementary School, I am able to announce that all public schools in Carney, Perry Hall and Kingsville are now air conditioned.

I was joined by Julie Henn, a member of the Baltimore County Board of Education who lives in Perry Hall.

In 2010, when I was elected, more than a dozen schools did not have air conditioning. By last year, the number had fallen to three: Chapel Hill, Kingsville and Oakleigh Elementary Schools. All three schools will open with air conditioning in this month.

I would like to thank my colleagues in the state and county governments for their support of the funding that made this milestone possible. In addition to the air conditioning initiative, work is underway on Perry Hall’s first new school in 25 years - the new Honeygo elementary school that will open in 2018. Funding has been approved for a new elementary and middle school as well.

"Councilman Marks was a key advocate for Chapel Hill Elementary School,” added Nitsa Stakias, former president of the Chapel Hill PTA.

Julie Henn continues to work hard on these issues on the School Board. And finally, my gratitude goes out to all the parent activists who have helped advocate for these improvements. They made a key difference!