Senate Democratic leader lashes out at Janet Mills over drug bill

Posted July 17, 2017, at 10:49 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — One of Maine’s leading progressive legislators lambasted Attorney General Janet Mills on Friday for behind-the-scenes work against his prescription drug bill just days after she declared her run for governor.

That bill from Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, was carried over to next year after the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee decided to not include it last week in a package of bills that it agreed to fund on the Special Appropriations Table.

Jackson’s proposal aims to lower prescription drug costs by making prescription drug manufacturers provide samples of drugs sold in Maine to generic drug manufacturers so generic versions can be produced and sold once patents expire. The bill would also allow the attorney general to seek injunctive relief from violators.

That’s already in federal law, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has conceded it’s difficult to enforce, which has delayed availability of generics. Generic drug companies, including Mylan Pharmaceuticals, say Jackson’s bill would save Mainers millions, but brand-name drug companies say delays are for patient safety concerns and that the bill would be inconsistent with federal law.

In a statement, Jackson blasted Mills for lobbying legislators to kill the bill after it won approval on initial votes on its merit, calling it a “huge victory for Big Pharma.”

“We don’t need to have a Legislature if we’re just going to let Appropriations members decide policy, or even worse, if we’re just going to let the attorney general decide policy, or even worse, why don’t we just give the whole damn thing to Pharma and let them run the state?” Jackson said in an interview.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said in a June floor speech that the attorney general was “telling us in no uncertain terms” that the bill would be preempted by federal law, risking an inevitable lawsuit that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and would likely be struck down. That’s why it landed on the Appropriations Table.

However, Mills’ concern with the law goes past that. On Friday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner said in an email that “if we believed this bill would benefit Maine people, we would be the first to support it,” but called it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

She said it “puts taxpayers on the hook for an effort to protect the profits of one pharmaceutical manufacturer over another,” noting it would help companies like Mylan, which is one of six generic drug companies that Maine and 19 other states are suing for alleged price fixing.

Jackson sponsored a 2013 law that would have allowed drugs to be imported to Maine from countries with similar safety standards and cheaper costs, such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Mills’ office defended it, but the law was overturned by a federal judge in 2015.

The rift between one of Maine’s leading progressives and Democrats’ best-known gubernatorial candidate could help color the 2018 party primary to replace Gov. Paul LePage. Some progressives have been clamoring for Jackson — who led Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ winning 2016 caucus bid in Maine — to run, but he has so far ruled it out.

Mills, former House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, Sanford attorney Adam Cote and Hallowell lobbyist Betsy Sweet are the best-known Democratic candidates so far.

On the Republican side, Mary Mayhew, LePage’s former commissioner of health and human services, is the most prominent to declare her candidacy for governor.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.

 

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