In his upcoming 2021-2023 biennial budget, Gov. Tony Evers plans to once again push for measures aimed at making prescription drugs more affordable in Wisconsin.

"No Wisconsinite should have to choose between paying their bills and affording their prescription medication," Evers said in a statement. "Picking up your prescription shouldn't break the bank, but we know too many Wisconsinites continue to struggle to afford their medications. That's just not right."

Evers is slated to deliver his formal budget proposal on Feb. 16. While some Democrats have encouraged Evers to be more aggressive in the upcoming budget cycle in order to accomplish party goals, Republicans, including those at the head of the state's powerful budget committee, have said they plan to be cautious with spending.

Ultimately, Evers' budget will have to go through the GOP-led Legislature at a time when both sides continue to grapple over an appropriate response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans sent its second coronavirus relief package to Evers' desk since the pandemic began, and the Assembly recently voted to eliminate the governor's statewide mask mandate.

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Some of the prescription drug measures Evers is proposing were included in the Democratic governor's 2019-2021 budget, but ended up being pulled by state Republicans. Back in the upcoming budget will be removing prescription copays from the state's Medicaid program, BadgerCare, and creating a state program to reduce the costs of prescription drugs while importing low-cost replacement options.

Evers' latest proposal largely follows recommendations made last fall by the the Governor's Task Force on Reducing Prescription Drug Prices. The task force submitted a report detailing several policy ideas aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs, expanding access to medications for residents and increasing transparency in the supply chain.

Issues of transparency have led to rising prescription medication prices nationwide, driven largely by pharmacy-benefit managers, who negotiate prices with drug manufacturers on behalf of insurers. The state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance reported that prescription drug prices continue to rise annually and Wisconsinites spent an estimated $1.3 billion on prescription medications and supplies in 2019.

Evers' budget would include measures to:

  • Create a Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board to create prescription drug spending targets for public sector entities and establish price limits.
  • Allow the state to import lower-cost drugs and collaborate with local entities to leverage purchasing power of medications.
  • Establish a $50 copay cap on insulin and create an Insulin Safety Net Program.
  • Create a pilot program to develop a value-based formula for diabetes medication.
  • Increase funding for free and charitable clinics by $4 million over the biennium.
  • Eliminate BadgerCare prescription drug copayments.

Evers' proposal also would create an Office of Prescription Drug Affordability to oversee and regulate the pharmaceutical supply chain, increase consumer protections, and require transparency and reporting across the prescription-drug supply chain.

"Health care — medications or otherwise — shouldn't be a privilege afforded only to the healthy and wealthy, and that's why we are going to be tackling this issue head-on in our budget," Evers said.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported last week that by the end of the 2021-2023 biennium, state general fund tax collections will be almost $1.2 billion higher than what was projected by the state departments of Administration and Revenue on Nov. 20.

In a joint statement, Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, co-chairs of the state's budget committee, called on Evers to "craft a responsible budget proposal that ensures we consider major policy issues through the public, transparent legislative process and spend within our means."

"Do not send the Legislature another budget like your first budget that was full of tax increases, excessive spending and divisive non-fiscal policy," the legislators said. "Our citizens deserve better. They want us to learn from the details of the past."

Two years ago, Evers signed an $82 billion two-year state budget but made 78 line-item vetoes to spend about $65 million more on K-12 education than Republicans intended and remove funding to implement work requirements and drug screening for FoodShare recipients.

Evers described his first budget as "a down payment on the people's budget," as it did not include measures he pushed for such as Medicaid expansion.

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum late last year predicted the state could be coming up on the most challenging budget session in a decade, with spending projected to exceed revenues by about $373.1 million — without taking into account Medicaid costs and new spending requests from state agencies

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