The Oklahoma House of Representatives continued to stand its ground Wednesday on an esoteric-sounding issue that may not churn the average voter’s blood but has the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce’s full attention and could mean millions of dollars one way or the other in prescription costs.
By a vote of 96-0, the House passed and sent to the Senate a prescription benefit manager bill similar to one vetoed by Gov. Kevin Stitt last week after the State Chamber, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and other interested parties raised objections.
That bill had passed the House and Senate without a dissenting vote.
In response, legislators dusted off a backup — House Bill 2632, by Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City — made a few changes and ran it back out on the House floor.
The legislation is complicated, but the central issue is the Legislature’s insistence that PBMs, as they’re known, open their provider networks to all pharmacists willing to meet the networks’ terms and conditions.
The State Chamber strenuously objects to the “any willing provider” clause, but Wednesday the House signaled it is not willing to remove it.
“There are some provisions in this bill we just can’t give away,” said Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, who has led the effort in the House to rein in PBMs. “They would take the teeth out of the bill or make the bill ineffective. Some of those points we would not negotiate on, but we negotiated on a whole bunch.”
The State Chamber says the bill may violate federal law and will likely drive up prescription costs because larger networks mean PBMs will no longer be able to guarantee the same volume of business to individual pharmacies.
Independent pharmacists, though, complain that closed networks are already driving up costs to consumers because they limit competition. There are also complaints about the close financial relationships some large PBMs have with chain pharmacies, insurers and drug companies.
The situation is such that Congress, including U.S. Sen. James Lankford, is inquiring into it at the national level.
Stitt’s position on HB 2632 is unclear. McEntire said House and Senate conferees tried to ease the governor’s concerns about violating federal law with some technical changes.
HB 2632 has more than 50 House co-authors and almost three-fourths of the Senate.
Meanwhile, Stitt’s hands-on approach to legislation demonstrated itself in another way Wednesday when he requested the recall of a bill already on his desk.
According to administration officials, Stitt wants HB 1022 rewritten to include more gubernatorial picks to the Task Force on Trauma-Informed Care. Under current language, the governor has four slots on the 26-member task force, while the speaker of the House and Senate president pro tem each have six. The remainder of the positions are spread out among other agencies.
The House and Senate recalled HB 1022 on Wednesday.