Maine Senate Approves Drug Pricing Cap Measure

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - The Maine State Senate has unanimously approved a bill that would control the price of prescription drugs and create a Fair Drug Pricing Board, the first such board in the nation. An identical bill was approved on April 14th by the state's House of Representatives by a vote of 89 to 54.

The measure now goes to the desk of Independent Governor Angus King. He has 10 days to decide what action to take.

"Now it (the bill) is actually in play," said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chellie Pingree, who led the Senate effort to pass the bill. "He has 10 days to make up his mind."

King has not yet said what he would do with the legislation should it reach his desk. However, in the recent past, King expressed reservations about the bill, noting it could be considered as interfering with the free market.

However, the bill could become law without the governor's signature. Should he veto the measure, the veto could be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote of both the House and the Senate.

Prior to the Senate action, its appropriations committee voted to set aside more than $800,000 to cover the costs of implementing the legislation.

The proposal would set a maximum price a manufacturer can charge. That price could not exceed the manufacturer's price in Canada.

The legislation was offered is in response to concerns raised by senior citizens who contend it is less expensive to take a bus to nearby Canadian towns to full their prescriptions than it is to fill the same prescriptions in their own communities.

Some state house veterans contend the bill also intends to force drug companies to voluntarily limit the price of prescription medications.

The legislation establishes an effective date of October, 2001.

Pingree pointed to the Clinton Administration's efforts to provide prescription drug relief for the elderly as an indication of the seriousness of the issue.

Other supporters pointed to a recently released study that showed prices for drugs, most often used by senior citizens, increased faster than the rate of inflation. According to government figures, prices for all prescription drugs increase 5.8 percent last year.