Grants Pass Daily Courier: Walden pushes bill to rid pharmacies of 'gag clauses'

October 15, 2018
In The News

Apparently there was a dirty little secret between the drug companies and the insurance companies about prescription costs for years.

Pharmacists could not inform customers, other than Medicare D patients, if their drug was cheaper if they paid out of pocket versus through their insurance, because of so-called "gag clauses."

Pharmacist Michele Belcher, who owns the Grants Pass Pharmacy, brought this to Oregon Rep. Greg Walden's attention.

Now two bills are headed to President Donald Trump: the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act, and the Know the Lowest Price Act.

They would ban the gag clauses.

"People didn't even know to ask the question before," Belcher said on Thursday, during a media event with Walden at her pharmacy, 415 S.W. Sixth St. "I'm thrilled. Sometimes this could make the difference between people having their medications or not."

One of the sponsoring senators, Susan Collins of Maine noted on a Congressional website that "multiple reports have exposed how this egregious practice has harmed consumers, such as one customer who used his insurance to pay $129 for a drug when he could have paid $18 out of pocket."

Belcher said about two years ago a parent with a terminally ill child was having trouble getting medication when insurance companies weren't reimbursing for it. She filled the prescription anyway, and two days later got a cease and desist letter because she asked the insurance company for payment.

Walden, the Republican from Hood River, who is running for his 11th consecutive two-year term in the November election, told that story on the House floor last week.

"That is simply unacceptable," said Walden, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon, including two-thirds of Josephine County voters, all in or near Grants Pass.

Belcher said the gag clauses have been going on for many years.

"Gag clauses are an unnecessary restriction on our ability as pharmacists to communicate with our patients," Belcher said. "That should never happen. I applaud Rep. Walden for taking this issue on.

"Now we can start the conversation and they can make an informed decision."

Walden later visited Wild River Brewing & Pizza in Grants Pass, where Manager Shaun Hoback and brewer Scott Butts gave him a tour, and said thanks for a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed 10 months ago.

That provision slashed the federal excise tax on craft brewers and winemakers.

Wild River saved $5,000 and was able to hire a full-time brewer instead of a part-timer.

The provision expires in 2019, but Hoback said "We'll be pushing to make it permanent."

Another bill allows Wild River and other craft brewers a much longer list of ingredients that they do not have to report to the Tax and Trade Bureau.

Butts said the savings in time and money means he'll be able to make a coriander beer.

"President Trump said he was going to reduce regulation, and he did," Hoback said.

"It's amazing what happens when you take away the dead hand of government," added Walden, quoting the former Texas Senator and Representative Phil Gramm.