Legislator, Opponent Clash Over Prescription Drug Bill

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A rare scene of drama erupted in a House health care committee hearing on Tuesday as the chair and a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry clashed over a fairly straightforward bill that would require greater transparency on the part of drug manufacturers.

House Bill 2658 would require that drug manufacturers report some planned price increases to the state Department of Consumer and Business Services at least 60 days before taking action. For brand name drugs, it would affect increases of at least 10 percent or $10,000 over a 12-month period, and for generics it would apply to increases of at least 25 percent or $300 over the same period.

The proposal was heard among four other prescription drug bills that included provisions for drug imports from Canada and patient education. Following testimonies of support from the bill sponsors, a showdown occurred between committee Chair Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, and Eric Lohnes, who testified against the price rise bill on behalf of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbyist group known as PhRMA. Rocky Dallum, from the Oregon Bioscience Association, also spoke out against the bill.

Industry representatives made their opinions clear throughout the hearing, speaking out against the first two bills on Canadian imports. Those proposals were the brainchild of Vice Chair Rob Nosse, D-Portland, who expressed no surprise when opponents moved to testify against HB 2658.

Lohnes argued that 60-day notices could threaten manufacturer supply chains. He said lawmakers should be targeting insurance companies and pharmacy middlemen instead, prompting Greenlick to interrupt in anger.

“What the hell is the problem?” Greenlick asked. “There’s no problem except you guys want to hide the ball.”

Greenlick, 83, said he has been studying pharmaceuticals since 1956, and for over 60 years has heard the same excuses from industry representatives opposed to lowering drug prices.

“Generally you are not stupid,” Greenlick said. “In this case, you appear to be stupid.”

After some back-and-forth with Lohnes, the chair banged down his gavel, ending the testimony to move on to hear other scheduled proposals. He later apologized to committee members for his “outburst,” saying it was not appropriate for a committee chair to behave in such a manner, but he said he did not extend that apology to PhRMA.

Committee member Christine Drazan, R-Clackamas County, said she appreciated the apology, but was disturbed by what she called an “abuse of power” used to belittle others. Drazan said legislators are increasingly trained on their conduct in office and that Greenlick’s words reflected poorly on Capitol culture.

In response, Greenlick said he would have preferred that Drazan air her grievances in private instead of “showboating” in front of a public audience. This led to a heated exchange between the two that continued after the hearing’s formal adjournment and did not end until Nosse stepped in to separate them.

House Bill 2658 will be scheduled for a work session, at which point committee members will vote on whether to advance the bill to the House floor.

Have a tip about health care of the Legislature? You can reach Alex Visser at [email protected].  

This story has been corrected to reflect the name of the PhRMA representative.The Lund Report regrets the error.

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