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

Never forgetting will help us keep the promise of “never again.”

Published in RINewsToday.com on February 1, 2021

During a Pro-Trump rally, as thousands of rioters swarmed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, Robert Keith Packer, sporting an unkempt beard, came wearing a black hoodie sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase “Camp Auschwitz,” in white letters, the name of the most infamous of the many Nazi concentration camps where 1.1 million people were murdered during World War II.  Under a skull and bones at the bottom of his shirt was the phrase, “Work brings Freedom,” a loose translation of the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” that was inscribed above the main entrance gate at Auschwitz and other concentration camps’ gates. 

Packer’s image, 56, a former welder and pipefitter, was circulated widely on social media and by newspapers, evoking shock and disbelief.

Packer, a resident of Newport News, Virginia, was not the only anti-Semitic rioter that day, according to a report released by the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the Network Contagion Research Institute. The report identified at least half a dozen neo-Nazi or white supremacist groups involved in the failed Capitol Insurrection who had also attended President Trump’s “Save America” rally speech. 

In recent years, anti-Semitic incidents have become more common in the Ocean State.

In 2017, the Providence Journal reported that the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League recorded 13 incidents of anti-Semitism in Rhode Island. Nazi swastikas were painted on a Providence building, at Broad Rock Middle School in North Kingstown, and even at a Pawtucket synagogue.

Anti-Semitism is Nothing New

But, anti-Semitism, exhibited at the “Save America” rally, has been in our country since its founding, and in fact, has been around western societies for centuries.  Over three years ago, torch marchers, some wearing Nazi-style helmets, carrying clubs, sticks and round makeshift shields emblazoned with swastikas and other Fascist symbols, and others entered the one-block square in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, to protect a controversial Confederate monument, chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and Soil” (a Nazi rallying cry).  

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 2014 Global Index of Anti-Semitism documented world-wide anti-Semitism. The survey found that more than 1 billion people – nearly one in eight – around the world harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. Carried out by First International Resources and commissioned by the ADL, this landmark survey included 53,100 adults in 102 countries representing 88 percent of the world’s adult population.

Over 30 percent of those surveyed said it was ‘probably true’ that Jews have too much control over financial markets, that Jews think they are better than other people, that Jews are disloyal to their country, and that people hate Jews because of the way that Jews behave. 

Most troubling, the ADL study found a large gap between seniors who know and lived through the horrendous events of World War II, and younger adults who, some 75 years after the Holocaust, are more likely to have heard of or learned that six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” Nearly half of those surveyed claim to have never heard of the Holocaust and only a third believe historical accounts are accurate.

Gearing Up to Fight Antisemitism

On Jan. 14, the American Jewish Congress (AJC), a global Jewish advocacy organization, briefed the FBI on the continuing threats of anti-Semitism to the nation. 

“Antisemitism fundamentally is not only a Jewish problem; it is a societal one. It is a reflection on the declining health of our society,” Holly Huffnagle, AJC’s U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism, told the FBI officials on a video conference briefing. “Education is essential, to clarify what constitutes antisemitism, the various sources of this hatred, and what effective tools are available for law enforcement to fight antisemitism,” she said.

The presentation of AJC’s second annual report on antisemitism in the U.S. took place in the wake of the January 6 assault on Capitol Hill, where anti-Semitic images and threats were openly conveyed by some of the rioters.

AJC’s 2020 report, based on parallel surveys of the American Jewish and general populations, revealed that 88 percent of Jews considered antisemitism a problem today in the U.S., 37 percent had personally been victims of antisemitism over the past five years and 31 percent had taken measures to conceal their Jewishness in public.

In the first-ever survey of the general U.S. population on antisemitism, AJC found a stunning lack of awareness of antisemitism. Nearly half of all Americans said they had either never heard the term “antisemitism” (21 percent) or are familiar with the word but not sure what it means (25 percent).

The AJC experts praised the FBI for its annual Hate Crimes Statistics report, which provides vital data on antisemitism. The latest report found 60.2 percent of religious bias hate crimes targeted Jews in 2019. But the report historically has not provided a full picture of the extent of hate crimes, since reporting by local law enforcement agencies is not mandatory.

To improve the monitoring and reporting of hate crimes, AJC continues to advocate for passage of the Jabara-Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assaults, and Threats to Equality (NO HATE) Act. This measure will incentivize state and local law enforcement authorities to improve hate crime reporting by making grants available and managed through the Department of Justice.

In addition, AJC is asking the FBI to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism as an educational tool. The definition offers a clear and comprehensive description of antisemitism in its various forms, including hatred and discrimination against Jews, and Holocaust denial. 

FBI officials in the Bureau’s Civil Rights Unit, Intelligence Division, and Community Outreach Program, among others, participated in the AJC briefing.

Keeping the memory alive about the Holocaust is key to fighting antisemitism, says Andy Hollinger, Director of Communications, for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). “”We are seeing a disturbing trend in the rise of antisemitism and the open display of neo-Nazi symbols, most recently at the attack on the U.S. Capitol. This is a long-time problem requiring a long-time solution. We must remember. Education is key. We must learn from this history-learn about the dangers of unchecked hatred and antisemitism. And we must not be silent,” he says.

Adds Bill Benson, who has interviewed Holocaust Survivors before live audiences at the USHMM’s First Person program for more than 2 decades, observes that the majority of those visiting the museum are not Jewish and many of have little familiarity with the Holocaust, and as a result of their visit are profoundly affected by their experience. “The USHMM provides an extraordinary avenue for educating the general public about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism for those millions who visit it, but it is essential that many millions more learn the truth about anti-Semitism and that must done through our educational systems,” he notes.

“The USHMM does an incredible job of educating and assisting teachers who want to teach about the Holocaust, but far too many school systems do not teach about the Holocaust, without which the gulf in knowledge and awareness may only grow as we lose those first-hand knowledge of the Holocaust,” says Benson.

A 2009 report, “Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust Residing in the United States Estimates & Projections: 2010 – 2030,” prepared by the Berman Institute-North American Jewish Data Bank, for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, estimated that 36,800 Holocaust survivors would still be living by 2025. As the number of survivors who witnessed the horrors of Genocide and the Holocaust during World War II continues to dwindle, a growing number of states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas, and have established Commissions to keep this knowledge alive to millennials, GenZ and  younger generations through educational programming and raise awareness through public education and community events to provide appropriate memorialization of the Holocaust on a regular basis throughout the state.

If the Rhode Island General Assembly legislates the establishment of a Rhode Island Genocide and Holocaust Education Commission, its motto might just be, “Never forgetting” will help us keep the promise of “Never Again.”

Bills Passed to Assist Rhode Island’s Seniors, Disabled

Printed in the Woonsocket Call on July 7, 2019

With the dust settling after the adjournment of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s 2019 legislative session on June 30, 2019, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo halfheartedly signed the state’s 2020 fiscal year $9.9 billion budget into law.

The newly enacted budget closes a $100 million budget gap while avoiding new taxes for businesses, fully funding the state’s education aid formula, continuing to phase-out the car-tax, maintaining fiscal support for municipalities. And, State lawmakers did not forget older Rhode Islanders and disabled persons, putting tax dollars into programs assisting them.

Included in the state budget signed by Raimondo is $499,397 to fund the Rhode Island Livable Home Modification Grant Act that was introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, Cranston and Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr., D -Bristol, Tiverton, Warren.

The grant allows eligible homeowners and renters to retrofit their residence to nationally recognized accessibility standards and receive 50 percent of the total sum spent, up to $5,000, to retrofit their existing residence.

The intent of this state program is to assist older Rhode Islanders and disabled persons to stay safely in their homes longer rather than being admitted to costly nursing homes, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year in Medicaid costs. With the graying of state’s population, there is a need for housing that is safe and adapted to the needs of their older occupants. (The Livable Home Modification Grant Application and Post-Retrofit Claim form can be found at http://www.gcd.ri.gov.)

Meanwhile, aging advocates gave the thumbs-up to Rhode Island lawmakers who eliminated a sunset provision in the state budget for a program that provides fare-free bus passes to low-income seniors and elderly Rhode Islanders, making this program permanent.

Awaiting the Governor’s Signature

The General Assembly passed legislation (S 0691A, H 6219), introduced by Senator Frank S. Lombardi, D-Cranston and Rep. Evan P. Shanley, D-Warwick, that would help caregivers to build onto their houses to provide space for relatives. The measure now moves to the governor’s office for consideration.

The passed legislation expands the definition of “family member” for purposes of zoning ordinances to include child, parent, spouse, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partner, sibling, care recipient or member of the household.

Under the legislation, the appearance of the home would remain that of a single-family residence with an internal means of egress between the home and the accessory family dwelling unit. If possible, no additional exterior entrances would be added. Where additional entrance is required, placement would generally be in the rear or side of the structure.

This legislative session, State lawmakers also approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Adam J. Satchell D- West Warwick and Rep. Robert E. Craven, D- North Kingstown, to establish a formal process recognizing “supported decision making,” a structure of support for disabled or aging individuals.

The legislation, which now heads to the governor’s desk, establishes a system of personal support that is less restrictive than guardianship to help individuals maintain independence while receiving assistance in making and communicating important life decisions. It is aimed at providing an alternative with more self-determination for individuals who are aging or who have developmental or intellectual disabilities.

Under the bill (2019-S 0031A, 2019- H5909), Rhode Islanders would be able to designate another person, or a team of people, as a supporter who would help them gather and weigh information, options, responsibilities and consequences of their life decisions about their personal affairs, support services, medical or psychological treatment, education and more. The supporter would also help the individual communicate the person’s wishes to those who need to know.

The legislation creates a legal form that establishes the agreement between individuals and their supporters, and designates the types of decisions with which the supporter is authorized to help. The bill establishes that decisions made with support under such an agreement are legally valid, and allows supporters to assist with the accessing of an individual’s confidential health and educational records.

It also requires that any other person who is aware that an individual is being abused, neglected or exploited by their supporter is obligated to report that abuse to the proper authorities.

Protecting Rhode Island’s Seniors and Disabled from Financial Exploitation

Sen. Valarie J. Lawson, D-East Providence and Rep. Joe Serodio’s D-East Providence, legislation (2019-0433A, 2019-H 6091A), “Senior Savings Protection Act,” was passed by the General Assembly and now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.

The act would require certain individuals to report the occurrence or suspected occurrence of financial exploitation of persons who are age 60 and over or those with a disability between the ages of 18 and 59 years old.

According to the legislation, if a qualified individual, a person associated with a broker-dealer who serves in a supervisory, compliance or legal capacity, believes that financial exploitation is taking place, or being attempted, the individual must notify Rhode Island’s Department of Business Regulation and Division of Elderly Affairs, and law enforcement. The individual may also alert immediate family members, legal guardians, conservators, or agents under a power of attorney of the person possibly being financially exploited.

The legislation also calls for the Department of business Regulation and the Division of Elderly Affairs to develop websites that include training resources to assist in the prevention and detection of financial exploitation against Rhode Island’s seniors and disabled.

Combating Alzheimer’s Disease

With the number of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease expected to increase in the coming years, the General Assembly approved bills to better support Rhode Islanders affected by debilitating mental disorder and to protect against elder abuse. There are an estimated 23,000 Rhode Islanders age 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s disease. In just six years, the number is expected to increase to 27,000.

The Rhode Island General Assembly approved legislation (S 20223, 2019-H 5178) sponsored Sen. Cynthia A.Coyne, D-Barrington, Bristol, East Providence, and House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, to establish a program within the Department of Health dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease, and create a 13-member advisory council that would provide policy recommendations, evaluate state-funded efforts for care and research and provide guidance to state officials on advancements in treatment, prevention and diagnosis. The bill is based on legislation signed into law last year in Massachusetts.

The legislation requires the Department of Health to assess all state programs related to Alzheimer’s, and maintain and annually update the state’s plan for Alzheimer’s disease. It would also require the Department of Health to establish an Alzheimer’s disease assessment protocol specifically focused on recognizing the signs and symptoms of cognitive impairments, and appropriate resource information for effective medical screening, investigation and service planning. The legislation would also require caseworkers working with the Department of Elderly Affairs to become familiar with those protocols. Additionally, the legislation would require a one-time, hourlong training on diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with cognitive impairments for all physicians and nurses licensed in the state.

Most importantly, adoption of the legislation would enable Rhode Island to qualify for federal funding that is available to help states with their efforts to support those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Also gaining final Rhode Island General Assembly approval was legislation (2019-S 0302A, 2019-H 5141) sponsored by Sen. Coyne and Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, Cranston, to allow the spouses or partners of patients residing in Alzheimer’s or dementia special care unit or program to live with them, even if they do not meet the requirements as patients-themselves.

Finally, Sen. Coyne, who lead the Senate’s Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation, successfully spearheaded an effort this session to pass legislative proposals to beef up the state’s efforts to combat elder abuse, that is growing and vastly under reported. For details, go to herbweiss.wordpress.com, to access the June 30 commentary, “Senate Task Force Calls for Action to Combat State’s Growing Elder Abuse.”