North Dakota Senate kills bill to cut drug prices for public employees

The complex proposal backed by the AARP would have slashed drug prices for the nearly 60,000 current and retired public employees and their dependents.

A woman in glasses and a red blazer holds up a large stack of papers labeled AARP.
AARP North Dakota State President Kathi Schwan, of West Fargo, testifies Jan. 16, 2023, on Senate Bill 2031, addressing prescription drug prices for North Dakotans.
Darren Gibbins / The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — A bill that aimed to stem prescription drug prices for North Dakota's public employees has perished despite heavy support from advocates for older adults.

Senate Bill 2031 won over just 14 of the 47 members of the Republican-held state Senate on Thursday, Feb. 2.

The complex proposal backed by the AARP would have slashed drug prices for the nearly 60,000 current and retired public employees and their dependents who are insured through the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS. Supporters hoped to extend the program to all state residents in future years.

Under the legislation, PERS would have been charged with identifying the 25 costliest prescription medications for its members. Then, the state insurance commissioner would have referenced the prices for the same drugs in four Canadian provinces to set caps on what local pharmacies and health insurance firms could pay pharmaceutical companies for the medications.

In theory, limiting the amount of money pharmacies and insurers are allowed to pay for medications would have resulted in savings for PERS and its members, but the bill's detractors contend that it wouldn't work in practice.


Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, told her colleagues the Senate Human Services Committee understands the strain of high drug prices on North Dakotans, but the panel "couldn’t find a way to make this bill effective or enforceable."

Roers noted that no other state has passed legislation that attempts to set drug prices based on what Canadians pay, and being the first to try out "reference pricing" would be difficult for North Dakota.

Lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies said last month that passing the bill would prevent North Dakotans from accessing price-controlled medications.

Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, spoke in favor of the bill Thursday, noting that the committee heard from many older residents who are struggling to pay for prescriptions. She said bringing the cost of most drugs in line with Canada's much lower prices would be a "crucial step" in addressing the issue.

“Staying healthy and sometimes staying alive should not bankrupt the good people of this state," Hogan said.

Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread and several other officials opposed the bill when it was under the committee's consideration.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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