RI Senate Tackles High Cost of Prescription Drugs – Herb Weiss

Published in RINewsToday.com on March 15, 2021

In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Governor Dan McKee and the Rhode Island General Assembly move to hammer out their Fiscal Year 2022 budget, Senate lawmakers push a package of eight legislative proposals to put the brakes on skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs.

The Senate resolution (2021-S 0560) sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-District 1, Providence), has already been passed and complements the prescription drug affordability package that will be considered next week that would require health insurers to provide coverage, without cost sharing, for colorectal screenings and follow-up colonoscopies when necessary.

The package of legislation aims to protect Rhode Islanders by limiting copays for insulin, capping out-of-pocket expenses for high deductible plans, requiring health insurers to cover preventive colorectal cancer screening, eliminating clauses hidden in pharmacy contracts that prevent a pharmacist from talking about more affordable options, requiring transparent pricing information, importing wholesale prescription drugs from Canada, and creating a board responsible for evaluating and ensuring drug prices are affordable. 

According to Greg Paré, the state Senate director of communications, this package of legislative proposals was developed in conjunction with AARP during the off session before the 2020 Senate session and first submitted last year, but legislation considered last session was limited due to the pandemic and so it did not pass. The legislation has been resubmitted this year with some small modifications and remains a Senate priority.

Last year, AARP along with 14 groups including, the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society Action Network, and Aging in Community, urged lawmakers to pass the package of legislative proposals.  Expect to see some of these groups again call for passage of either the total package or specific bills at a Senate Health and Human Services Committee’s virtual hearing, chaired by Sen. Joshua Miller, on Thursday, at 5:00 p.m. For the hearing’s agenda, go to: For hearing details go to: https://bit.ly/3ezofmJ.

Passage of this legislative package would require action by both the Senate and House. At press time, not all of the Senate bills have companion measures in the House.   

Controlling the Skyrocketing Increase of Prescription Drugs

Here are specifics about the Senate’s prescription drug affordability legislative package that will be considered next week by the Rhode Island’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee:  

Legislation (2021-S-0170 sponsored by Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D–Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield), would limit the copay for prescription insulin to $50 for a 30-day supply for health plans that provide coverage for insulin. Additionally, the bill mandates that coverage for prescription insulin would not be subject to a deductible.  

Legislation (2021-S 0381)sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D–Dist. 29, Warwick), would cap out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs at the federal minimum dollar amount for high-deductible health plans, currently $1,400 for individual plans and $2,800 for family plans.    

The bill (2021-S-0383), sponsored by Senator Goodwin (D–Dist. 1, Providence), would save lives by requiring health insurers cover preventive colorectal cancer screening in accordance with American Cancer Society (ACA) guidelines. This coverage must be provided without cost-sharing and includes an initial screening and follow-up colonoscopy if screening results are abnormal. The ACA recommends people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45.  

A bill (2021-S -497) sponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr. (D–Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) would allow consumers to pay less for their prescription drugs by banning gag clauses sometimes found in pharmacy contracts that prevent a pharmacist from talking to a customer about more affordable options.   

This bill (2021-S-0494) would require pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, pharmacy benefit managers, health insurers, and hospitals to disclose certain drug pricing information. Such transparency would help payers determine whether high prescription costs are justified. This bill is sponsored by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D – Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence).  

This bill (2021-S-0499), sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D–Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), would create a state-administered program to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada, which has drug safety regulations similar to those of the United States. Such programs are allowed under federal rules, with approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

This legislation (2021-S0498) would create a prescription drug affordability board tasked with investigating and comprehensively evaluating drug prices for Rhode Islanders and possible ways to reduce them to make them more affordable. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D–Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence). 

The bill (2021-S 0496) introduced by Sen. Felag (D-District 12, Bristol, Tiverton, Warren) aims to protect consumers from unexpected changes in their health plan’s formularies (list of covered drugs). Under the legislation, formulary changes can only be made at the time of health plan renewal, if the formulary change is made uniformly across all identical or substantially identical health plans, and if written notice is provided 60 days or more before the change. 

Seniors Hit Hard by High Price of Prescriptions

“The high price of prescriptions is having a severe impact on Rhode Islanders, particularly older residents,” said Ruggerio, noting the state’s population is one of the oldest in the nation.  “Many older Rhode Islanders have limited means, and the high cost of prescriptions means people are 

Ruggerio warns that the pharmaceutical industry is not going to address this on its own, so it’s up to the state and federal governments to take action.”

Maureen Maigret, Co-Chair, Long Term Care Coordinating Council, observes that with Medicare paying the tab for costly pharmaceuticals, controlling rising drug costs is a federal issue.  “But this is a big issue to address for those with low and moderate incomes under-insured for prescription drugs,” she says. “I applaud the Senate legislative package aimed at controlling the cost of prescription drugs for Rhode Islanders, says Maigret, who cites the findings of a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that shows one out of four persons take four or more prescription drugs and more than one-third say that have difficulty taking their medication properly due to cost.  “Seniors may fail to get prescriptions filled, resort to pill splitting or skipping doses. Some may end up with costly hospital Emergency Rooms or inpatient visits as health conditions worsen due to the inability to afford their medications, notes Maigret, calling for lawmakers to make necessary prescription drugs affordable for all who need them. Maigret says, “It is time to make necessary prescription drugs available for all who need them.”

“AARP Rhode Island is eager to work with both the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass this important legislation designed to lower prescription drug costs,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “The high cost of drugs leads families – and particularly older Rhode Islanders on fixed and limited incomes — to often make impossible decisions. No one should have to choose between paying rent, providing food for themselves or their family and vital prescription medications that keep them healthy,” she says.

We look forward to working with legislators from across the state to help improve the health and financial stability of everyone by lowering the cost of prescription drugs. We thank Senate President Ruggerio for once again bringing forth this very important legislation,” adds Connell.

It’s mid-March. Lawmakers turn their attention now to passing the state budget.  Even if the Senate passes every bill in the prescription drug affordability package, the lower chamber must pass companion measures for these bills.  When passed, Governor Dan McKee must sign the legislation to become law.  Right now, it’s an uphill battle and Rhode Islanders must call on their state lawmakers to get on board to support bills to reduce the high cost of pharmaceuticals.  It’s the right thing to do. 

Things that You Should Know 

This meeting will be streamed live online through Capitol TV:

http://www.rilegislature.gov/CapTV/Pages/default.aspx

Written testimony is encouraged and can be submitted prior to 2:00 PM on Thursday, March 18, 2021, in order for it to be provided to the members of the committee at the hearing and to be included in the meeting records. Finally, if you are interested in providing verbal testimony to the committee at this hearing, please go to the following link and make your request by 4:00 p.m., on Wednesday, March 17, 2021:  https://bit.ly/3bIJAs2

Recalling the Life and Times of Dave

Published in the Woonsocket Call on August 9, 2015

            Four days ago friends, Smith Hill colleagues, and media gathered at a memorial service to commemorate the life and times of the late David Raymond Barber, known to those attending simply as Dave, at Lachapelle Funeral Home. Over 100 people gathered at the Pawtucket funeral home to remember Dave, an award-winning veteran radio broadcaster with extensive experience in talk radio programming, marketing and advertising.

At the memorial service on August 6, everyone knew Dave had transitioned from radio talk show host to his current job at Capitol Television, .hosting the program “Straight from the Gavel.”  For those who tuned into this cable program, they learned the mysteries of political sausage making, specifically how bills became enacted into law.  During seven and a half years, he hosted 390 episodes of “Straight from the Gavel, and about 600 five-minute Capitol Spotlights, interviewing members of the state’s General Assembly.  His replacement will find that Dave has very big shoes to fill.

Sharing Personal Memories 

During the two-hour memorial service, personal stories where shared by a few of Dave’s colleagues and friends.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) said that Dave always tuned into her radio show, “Amazing Women,” taped during the week and aired on Sunday morning. “He would take time to find me and comment about a question or a certain segment of the show.  That was Dave.  He was so genuine and honest,” said Ruggiero.

His liking of people made him a very good interviewer for the State House cable show television, added Ruggiero.  “He would always be present with the guest at the other side of the microphone. Nothing mattered to him but that conversation,” she said.

Luigi DelPonte, Senate Doorman for four years, remembered that a mutual love of fashion caused him to seek out the man who everyone said was a better dresser than him.  The North Providence resident said that after this initial meeting “You’d be hard pressed to find Dave with a hair out of place.  From his tanned skin, manicured finger nails and tailored suits to his French cuff shirts and shined shoes.”

“I guess some might just call him a Fashionista,” said Del Ponte.

When first meeting Dave, Ron St. Pierre, morning talk-show host on WHJJ-AM, knew that Dave was “conversationalist,” a talk show host “who knew there’s a big world out there beyond just politics.”

As to one of Dave’s most memorable shows on WPRO, St. Pierre remembers him telling callers to talk about their favorite summer song and then a snip of the tune would follow.  St. Pierre drove home enjoying the program.  Pulling into his driveway he listened to the last 20 minutes until the show went off the air.  “That’s he ultimate compliment you can pay anyone on the radio,” he said.

Dave’s Rhode Island Adventure

Rep. Dennis Canario (D-Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton), brought up Dave’s love for his cream-colored Italian-made Vespa scooter.  “I helped him get his helmet painted to match the color of it,” said the Deputy Majority Leader. “He was the infamous social butterfly on two wheels,” he said, noting that following Barber’s adventures on his scooter was almost like “Where in Rhode Island is Dave now.”

Jason Golditch, Senior Producer and Director at Capitol Television, told a story to illustrate Dave’s love of baseball and his sense of humor.  Golditch says that oftentimes he would give out a fantasy baseball card with his image on the card along with a real major league baseball player wearing Detroit Tiger uniforms. “Little did those he gave the card to realize the photo was from a fantasy camp he once attended,” he added, noting that Dave would “go on to answer people’s questions about what it was like to play in the major leagues.”

Former WLNE-TV ABC 6 reporter and anchor Mark Curtis noted that Dave was “relentless” in using social media.  Over six years Dave sent him almost 1,000 Facebook messages, texts and tweets, many sharing news tips that would allow his television station to quickly break a story.

Protecting the Public Interest

For this writer, I can say that Dave used his microphone as a talk radio host in Michigan and his brief stint at WPRO in Rhode Island to protect the public interest.  He was very outspoken and opinionated, but his listeners loved him.  They regularly tuned in to hear him taking on some of the biggest political heavyweights in these states.  He was knowledgeable about his topic, yet very entertaining to boot.  More important, he got his points across well.

Oftentimes, the former Pawtucket resident who would later relocate to East Greenwich, would say to this writer that he was “never happier being in a job surrounded by politics 24/7.

Dave loved to watch Rhode Island’s political scene, critiquing to those who would listen how an elected official’s message would generate support or fall flat.  Like his days in talk show radio, he really called it like he saw it.

Progressive to the core, he was a strong union supporter.  In my many conversations with Dave he repeatedly stressed the need and importance of unions. He also brought his understanding of media to many of the Rhode Island nonprofits around the Ocean State including the historic Slater Mill to help raise money, also to give marketing and public relations tips gleaned from his years in the advertising business.

After a long workweek, or on weekends, you might just see him, very tanned puttering around South County on his creamed-colored Vespa.  He loved to go to the beach to view “the majestic Narragansett surf” at Bonnet Shores Beach Club, where he was a member. Or you might run into Dave leisurely reading the New York Post at his favorite East Greenwich breakfast joint, the Main Street Café or even Kip’s Restaurant in Pawtucket, when he lived in that city.

At age 60, Dave died too young but touched many people throughout his six decades of life.  From Facebook messages, it’s quite clear that little things in life do count even more than larger more visible ones.  Kind words and support at the exact time needed can have a major impact on a person and will be remembered decades later.  Over the years Dave was there for many, and they remembered him for that, too.

But, Dave’s untimely death gives everyone an important message how to live.  Each and every day tell your friends and loved you care for them and thank them for being in your life.  If you don’t do this, you may just never have that chance.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  His email is hweissri@aol.com.

David Barber Dies at 60. the Face of “Straight from the Gavel”

 

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 12, 2015

David Barber, an award-winning broadcaster veteran with extensive experience in talk radio programming, radio and TV sales management, television programming and commercial production and ad agency and public relations expertise, died on July 4, 2015.  He was 60.

On a trip to Flint Michigan to attend a friend’s wedding, Mr. Barber died, Saturday, July 4, from a stroke and heart attack he had on Thursday, June 25, says his brother Larry Barber.  The family is planning to hold a memorial service in Rhode Island and will announce the specifics shortly, he says.

He grew up in Flint, Michigan, graduated from Mount Morris High School  and received his bachelor’s degree in business from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

A Watch Dog for the Public

The Flint Michigan native, a seasoned award-winning radio broadcaster on WTRX-AM (1130), WTAC (600), and WFDF (910) radio stations, became the watch dog for his listeners in his hometown and the surrounding area, using his microphone to protect the public interest.  Known as an outspoken and controversial and opinionated talk show host, Mr. Barber’s listeners regularly tuned into to see him taking on some of the biggest political heavy weights and corrupt elected officials in Michigan.

In 2006, recognizing the need to move up in his radio career, Mr. Barber took a professional risk relocating to Providence, Rhode Island radio market, taking the helm of  WPRO’s daily talk radio show, from 9:00 a.m. to Noon, the time slot formerly held by Steve Kass.  After a year, even after getting an excellent rating on his first job performance review, Mr. Barber was suddenly let go, when John DePetro, a former WHJJ radio host left his job in Boston and was hired by the station.   During his brief hiatus for WPRO, as a talk radio host he brought his liberal blue-collar views to New York-abased Air America Radio Network , specializing in progressive talk programming.

Mr. Barber made Talker’s Magazine’s Heavy 100, listing of the nation’s talk show hosts, getting this prestigious designation three times. His show was selected along with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Don Imus, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and others.

Bringing the General Assembly to the People

Ultimately, when hired by the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Capitol Television in 2008, Mr. Barber traded in his WPRO radio mic for a hand-held mic on a state cable channel. .

As Capitol Television host, as the only on-air person, Mr. Barber interviewed the state’s elected and government officials and even cultural icons.  With experience gleaned from being a talk show host in the Flint/Twin Cities radio market, at WEYI Television NBC, he easily brought the mysteries of political sausage making (that is the political process) to the tens of thousands of viewers who tuned into “Straight from the Gave,” a half hour sit down segment with state legislators.  He was never happier being in a job surrounded by politics 24/7.

According to Capitol Television, considered Rhode Island’s C Span, it is estimated that Mr. Barber hosted 390 episodes of “Straight from the Gavel, and about 600 Capitol Spotlights, a five-minute stand-up segment with members of the state’s General Assembly.

As a Trustee of Slater Mill, Mr. Barber, considered by many to be a marketing wiz with his skills honed at Davison, Michigan-based Parr Media Advertising, brought the nuts and bolts of media and public affairs to America’s most historic mill.  Mr. Barber also served on the Board of Directors of the Salvation Army in Pawtucket and did charitable work for the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket.  Before relocating to the Ocean State from Michigan, he served on the Board of Directors of the American Lung Association and hosted television telethon’s for the Easter Seals Society, the American Diabetes Association, United Way and Big Brothers and Sister, among a few.

An entertainer at heart, Mr. Barber, an avid Frank Sinatra fan, would take any opportunity to sing the songs of  Sinatra, one of the nation’s best selling musical artist of all time.  On many occasions, he sang at Millonzi’s Bar and Grille in West Warwick and other local lounges, even taking the opportunity to sing with the legendary Cowsills, in Pawtucket’s Slater Memorial Park during the Pawtucket Arts Festival.

Work hard, play hard might have even been Mr. Barber’s mantra. After a long- work week, on weekends you might just see him, very tanned and immaculately dress,  puttering around South County on his creamed-colored Vespa to view “the majestic Narragansett surf” at Bonnet Shores Beach Club (he was a member), even enjoying an occasional ride over the iconic Newport Bridge.  Or may be you might have seen the Warwick resident leisurely reading a New York Times at his favorite East Greenwich breakfast joint, the Main Street Café.

Making a Home in Rhode Island

It was not easy for Mr. Barber to leave his family and friends to relocate to a new state where nobody knows who you are.  “The move was far more difficult than I expected,” he says in a 2010 blog, posted by Rich Frost with What The Hell…

“I did not know a single person and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I would have made a move if I knew what I know now,” noted Mr. Barber in his interview.

Television Director Jason Golditch, who directed many of Mr. Barber’s programs at Capitol Television, Television Director, noted that Capitol TV’s new host ultimately adapted well to his new state.  “Over time he truly grew to love this state,” Golditch says, noting that his colleague would often say, “It doesn’t get much better than this, can you believe it.”

According to Golditch, when a film shoot took place, the Capitol Television’s only on air person would just start talking to people and they got along so well they began swapping stories. “He would find so much joy in meeting new people and talking with them on any subject,” he says.

Adds, Editor Carlos Diaz, at Capitol Television, Mr.Barber was a “real friend,” to him and hundreds of others who could count on his help at any time of the day or night.  “He helped who ever he could, even those he did not know,” he says.

“There were postings on Face Book from people all over the nation, from all walks of life, friends he made throughout his 60 years of living,” says Diaz, all praying for his recovery. “That was amazing,”

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.