Monthly Archives: February 2020

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    State Senate passes three bills to curb prescription drug prices

State Senate passes three bills to curb prescription drug prices

February 19th, 2020|

From the Kent Reporter

The state Senate passed three bills sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, that would rein in sharply rising prescription drug prices.

“Prescription drug costs are out of control,” Keiser said in a Washington State Senate Democrats news release. “Our constituents can’t wait. The taxpayers can’t wait. We have to do something about this increase in costs.

The three bills that the Senate passed on Tuesday take on insulin costs as well as costs for the most expensive prescriptions and those that are increasing in price the fastest.

  • SB 6113 would create a centralized purchasing process for insulin based on the approach used by the state to purchase childhood vaccines. It passed on a vote of 28-20.
  • SB 6088 would establish a prescription drug affordability board that would review prices and price increases to determine whether maximum price caps are needed. It passed on a vote of 28-20.

“We have a responsibility to keep prescriptions that are vital for people’s health affordable,” Keiser said. “I’ve been working for months with a broad range of stakeholders to put together legislation that will tackle this problem from multiple angles.”

All three bills now go to the House for consideration.

Trio of Prescription Cost Bills Pass off Senate Floor

February 19th, 2020|

From the AP

The Washington Senate on Tuesday passed three bills that aim to reign in the costs of prescription drugs.

Two of the measures, all sponsored by Democratic Sen. Karen Keiser, address insulin costs, while the third addresses overall drug affordability.

A measure that would cap the monthly out-of-pocket cost of insulin to $100 until Jan. 1, 2023 and requires the Health Care Authority to monitor the price of insulin, passed on a 34-14 vote. Another bill that is seeking a longer-term cost containment for insulin and would create a centralized purchasing process for insulin based on the approach used by the state to purchase childhood vaccines, passed on a vote of 28-20. The third measure, which would establish a prescription drug affordability board that would review prices and price increases to determine whether maximum price caps are needed, also passed on a 28-20 vote.

The bills now head to the House for consideration.

Patient supports $100 cap on insulin costs

February 19th, 2020|

From UW Medicine Newsroom

Dana VanBuecken and her husband had to take a good long look at their budget this year. Given that Dana’s insulin costs the family $600 a month, could they afford to send their four-year-old son, Remy, to preschool this year?

In the end, the Seattle-area family opted  for the preschool, but VanBuecken readily admits that she has friends and acquaintances facing starker choices. Rent, or pay for insulin? Grocery money, or pay for insulin? Can I skimp on my insulin shots until insurance kicks in?

“This all weighs heavily on my heart,” said VanBuecken, who works as a nurse practioner at the Benayora Research Institute in the diabetes clinical research program.

VanBuecken found out she had diabetes 13 years ago, after experiencing the classic symptoms  – thirst, weight loss – and discovering during a visit to urgent care that she had type 1 diabetes. She then became a patient of UW Medicine endocrinologist Irl Hirsch.

VanBuecken and Hirsch are tracking with interest a bill working its way through the Washington State Legislature this year that would cap insulin expenditures to $100 a month, and establish a state insulin supply so  those who are between jobs or  who have a low-income  can have access to insulin. The bill,  SB 6087, was sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines). If passed, Washington would be one of four states either considering or which have passed caps on insulin prices. Colorado the first state to cap insulin prices at $100 a month last year.

A long-time advocate for diabetes awareness, VanBuecken attended the State of the Union February 4 in Washington D.C., as a guest of U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Washington). While VanBuecken supports a national solution to insulin costs, she’s also a realist. Given the Congressional gridlock, controlling insulin costs at the state level makes sense, she said.

“Ideally, I think there needs to be national oversight in drug pricing,” she said, “but given that the House bill addressing this is stuck in the Senate, I think states need to take measures into their own hands.”

When VanBuecken was first diagnosed with diabetes the total cost for her insulin – at two vials a month – was $100 a month. Now that cost has climbed to $600 a month.

“The inability to afford insulin is one of the biggest concerns of my patients,” said Hirsch, who has written op-eds on the topic at a national level. “I’m not going to say that it comes up with every patient, but it comes up with a lot of them.”

Hirsch noted that some of his patients even find that co-pays for the drug are unaffordable.

“I have patients telling me that they are paying more for their insulin than they are for their mortgage,” he said.

There are many reasons given as to why a drug – which is absolutely necessary for those with type 1 diabetes to survive – is so expensive in the U.S., but not in the rest of the developed world.

Hirsch said a new study showed that even some third-world countries have better access to insulin than the United States does.  A recent study estimated that 26 percent of the diabetes patients in the United States ration their insulin, often with deadly outcomes. Another study, released this week, found that U.S. patients were turning to Craigslist to buy or sell insulin.

By Barbara Clements

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    Senate passes three Keiser bills to curb prescription drug prices

Senate passes three Keiser bills to curb prescription drug prices

February 18th, 2020|

The Senate has passed three bills sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) that would rein in sharply rising prescription drug prices.

“Prescription drug costs are out of control,” said Keiser. “Our constituents can’t wait. The taxpayers can’t wait. We have to do something about this increase in costs.”

The three bills that the Senate passed take on insulin costs as well as costs for the most expensive prescriptions and those that are increasing in price the fastest.

  • SB 6087 would cap out-of-pocket cost to patients for insulin at $100 per month. It passed on a vote of 34-14.
  • SB 6113 would create a centralized purchasing process for insulin based on the approach used by the state to purchase childhood vaccines. It passed on a vote of 28-20.
  • SB 6088 would establish a prescription drug affordability board that would review prices and price increases to determine whether maximum price caps are needed. It passed on a vote of 28-20.

“We have a responsibility to keep prescriptions that are vital for people’s health affordable,” Keiser said. “I’ve been working for months with a broad range of stakeholders to put together legislation that will tackle this problem from multiple angles.”

All three bills now go to the House for consideration.

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    Washington, Idaho Legislatures Busy During Presidents’ Day Holiday

Washington, Idaho Legislatures Busy During Presidents’ Day Holiday

February 18th, 2020|

From Spokane Public Radio

Both the Washington and Idaho legislatures were on duty during this federal Presidents’ Day holiday.

In Olympia, Washington legislators used Presidents’ Day as an opportunity to approve a large number of bills. At least three focused on health care and prescription drug costs.

One would limit the amount of money people pay when they pick up their medication. The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Chris Gildon of Puyallup.

Chris Gildon: “It says you can only charge the lesser of the insurance co-pay or the cash price, whichever one is cheaper. On average, I’ve heard you’re looking at a difference of between five to seven dollars, maybe. The most that I’ve heard is $70 per prescription. If you’re a senior citizen on a fixed income and you’re on three, four or five medications, you have to have those filled a couple of times a month, that’s real money, Mr. Speaker.”

That bill passed unanimously.

Two other bills would create independent committees to track health care-related costs. One, sponsored by Democratic Senator Karen Keiser [kaiser], would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

Karen Keiser: “They will examine these specific drugs, not all drugs, but the ones that are really going on the upswing, and they will find out whether the prices are excessive or not. We need to have a view of what’s going on and we need to, subject to appropriation, make certain that certain drugs, determine that those drugs and their excessive costs on patients can be contained.”

That bill was approved by a 28-20 vote in the Senate.

The House voted to create a new Health Care Cost Transparency Board, which would track health care costs in Washington. Its supporters say that will help the state monitor  the trends of health care spending and more accurately forecast how costs will change.

Rep. Joe Schmick [R-Colfax] voted for it, but warned some of his Republican colleagues wouldn’t.

“Not saying that we shouldn’t be taking a look and seeing what’s driving the cost of health care and what can be done about it. But there are some concerns that once we establish that, what are we going to do with it and how is that going to be used?” Schmick said.

That bill passed the House 75-to-23.

In Boise, the Idaho House approved a handful of bills, including one that would give vehicle owners three extra years before they have to replace their license plates. The current law mandates a change in plates every seven years. Rep. Jason Monks’ [R-Nampa] bill would stretch that to 10 years.

“We’re talking about 25,000 people a year won’t have to have their plates replaced if we change it to 10 years. What does that mean to ITD? It’s about $22,000 altogether, what they would lose on that. That’s not a big amount in the whole scheme of things and that’s money back into our taxpayers’ pockets and one less trip to the DMV,” Monks said.

Idaho legislators on Monday remembered three former colleagues who passed away last year, including Kootenai County legislator Kathy Sims.

The Senate approved memorials to Sims, former Orofino Democratic Senator Marguerite McLaughlin and former Boise Republican Senator Bill Roden.

Sims was appointed to the Senate in 2000 and served until she lost a primary election in 2002. She later was elected to three terms in the state House. Don Cheatham was one of three Coeur d’Alene senators who told stories about Sims on the Senate floor.

“My wife and I became good friends of Kathy. We went to dinner a lot,” Cheatham said. “I’d ask her, ‘What do you call your committee?’ I had to do that several times and finally she says, ‘Our committee’s name is CAVE.’ CAVE? She says, ‘Yes. Citizens Against Virtually Everything.’ Kathy was full of one liners and I have a lot of stories about her.”

Sims and her husband owned Coeur d’Alene Honda. Sen. Mary Souza remembered Sims for breaking gender barriers by taking on leadership roles in the traditionally male-led auto dealership industry.

By Doug Nadvornick

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    State Senate bill would extend window for pregnancy discrimination complaints

State Senate bill would extend window for pregnancy discrimination complaints

February 14th, 2020|

From the Kent Reporter

A bill passed Thursday by the state Senate in Olympia with a broad bipartisan majority would extend the statute of limitations for filing a pregnancy discrimination complaint from six months to one year.

Senate Bill 6034 would update the Washington Law Against Discrimination to give a pregnant woman or new mother more time to file a complaint with the Was

A bill passed Thursday by the state Senate in Olympia with a broad bipartisan majority would extend the statute of limitations for filing a pregnancy discrimination complaint from six months to one year.

Senate Bill 6034 would update the Washington Law Against Discrimination to give a pregnant woman or new mother more time to file a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Council.

“It takes nine months or more to have a baby, but right now, expectant mothers only have six months to file a discrimination complaint,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, the sponsor of the bill, in a State Senate Democrats news release. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Studies show that mothers are half as likely to be called back for interviews as non-mothers, and mothers who are hired are likely to be offered an average of $11,000 less per year in salary.

Having passed the Senate by a vote of 38-9, SB 6034 now moves to the House of Representatives.

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    From Canadian imports to price caps, WA lawmakers seek ways to cut drug prices

From Canadian imports to price caps, WA lawmakers seek ways to cut drug prices

February 5th, 2020|

From Crosscut 

Liz Donehue was a 22-year-old college senior when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Although she was covered by state-provided health insurance, Donehue said she still had to go through the hassle of getting prior authorization from her endocrinologist and her insurance company every three months when she needed a refill on her insulin supply. The process took so long that she repeatedly risked running out of insulin, causing her a lot of anxiety.

Overwhelmed by trying to navigate the health care system and by the high costs of the insulin she needs to survive, Donehue eventually moved to the Czech Republic to ensure she had dependable and affordable access to insulin.

Because Donehue now lives overseas, her mother, Marcee Stone-Vekich, has been traveling to Olympia to tell her daughter’s story and urge state lawmakers to pass legislation that would cap the cost of insulin for diabetic patients.

“She is now a health care refugee,” said Stone-Vekich. “By living in a former communist bloc nation she has access to health care and supplies at virtually no cost to herself, except the cost that she is thousands of miles from her home.”

The legislation Stone-Vekich supports, Senate Bill 6087, had a public hearing last month before the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee. The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, limits a patient’s out-of-pocket expenses to $100 for a 30-day supply of insulin.

Public testimony was also open for a slate of other proposals Keiser sponsored that would attempt to make prescription drugs more affordable.

Liz Donahue
Liz Donehue walks along a street in Brno, the Czech Republic in March 2018. Donehue was diagnosed at 22 with Type 1 diabetes and subsequently moved from the United States to the Czech Republic to ensure she had affordable access to insulin. (Marcee Stone-Vekich)

One bill would create a pathway for other Washingtonians to do what Stone-Vekich’s daughter ultimately had to do: obtain prescription drugs at a lower cost from another country.

The legislation would simply provide a “mechanism” and a “framework” to import prescription drugs, Keiser said. That way, if the federal government decides to allow a prescription drug trade between Canada and the U.S.,  for example, the state already has a system in place. The Washington Health Care Authority, the state Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission and relevant federal agencies would be responsible for designing a wholesale prescription drug importation program that complies with all federal requirements.

Keiser said other states, including Florida and Maine, have passed similar legislation.

2017 report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine noted that rising prescription drug costs in the U.S. are making it increasingly difficult for people to afford their medications. The report said a lack of transparency in the prescription drug supply chain makes it difficult to predict the effects of any policy change.

Marcia Stedman, who represents Healthcare for All Washington, called Keiser’s bill to help facilitate importing drugs from Canada “a step in trying to get a handle on our prescription drug prices.” Stedman, who testified in favor of the bill, said the measure highlights the desperation of people who go to Canada to fill their prescriptions.

“It’s shocking to our sensibilities,” she said. “In America we are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as the best at everything…. This necessity to go to another country and rely on them for our basic needs should be repugnant to all of us.”

Critics of the legislation argued that there aren’t enough drugs available in Canada for the amount of medication Americans need. “Our nation of 38 million people does not have the pharmaceutical supply for your 329 million people,… The numbers don’t work.” said John Adams of the Best Medicines Coalition, a Canadian nonprofit.

Adams noted that he and other Canadians appreciate Americans “bold sense of confidence and pride in self-reliance.”

“That’s why it’s disorienting to witness politicians from both parties looking to our country to help make your medicines more affordable,” he said.

And, as mentioned by other lobbyists during the public hearing, the legislation wouldn’t cover insulin.

The state Department of Health said the high cost of treatment can often be prohibitive for diabetics. Over 6,000 Washingtonians died in 2017 from diabetes or diabetes-related complications. It was the seventh leading cause of death in the state.

Another mother who testified in support for Keiser’s bill capping insulin prices to $100 said her son’s supply of insulin costs more than $900 a month, not including the supplies needed to administer the hormone. She said the high costs are what leads some diabetics to ration their insulin supply for the month.

However, insurance lobbyists claim Keiser’s proposal to cap insulin prices would only encourage manufacturers to increase the price they charge insurance companies while charging people without insurance the list price. Lobbyists from Kaiser Permanente, America’s Health Insurance Plans and Association of Washington Healthcare Plans testified in opposition to the bill, citing a concern that it would force them to increase insurance premiums for consumers.

Keiser disagreed, estimating that the cost increase would amount to only about 50 cents per member per year.

Republican Sen. Randi Becker from Olympia voted against Keiser’s insulin cap bill in committee but is co-sponsoring Keiser’s legislation to import prescription drugs from Canada. She declined an interview with Crosscut about her position on the bills.

Historically, the creators of insulin sold the patent for the life-saving hormone for only $1 in order to keep the cost affordable for diabetic patients. Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi are the three manufacturers who hold patents on the drug.

Donehue, who now lives in Brno, Czech Republic, said in an email that the insulin she gets in the Czech Republic is the same formula and brand produced by Eli Lilly in the United States, except that it has a Czech label.

Donehue said importing drugs from another country “speaks volumes about how backwards and profit-driven our health care system is.” She explained that a vial of insulin costs $6 to produce, yet she was paying $336 out-of-pocket per month while she was living in Washington.

That same vial is free to her in Brno.

“People are literally dying because they cannot afford the medication manufactured within the United States,” Donehue said. “It’s really a shame, a complete embarrassment on the stage of the developed world,” she added.

Stone-Vekich said that she hopes bills like Keiser’s will eventually allow her daughter and other “health care refugees” to return home.

“She would like to be home and I would like to have her home,” said Stone-Vekich, who has been able to see her daughter only three times since she left the United States. “Her courage just blows me away.”

By Shauna Sowersby

Latest Allure for Mexico, Caymans Travelers: the Pharmacy

February 4th, 2020|

From Bloomberg Law

A small but growing number of employers are finding they can save money on high-priced pharmaceuticals by flying their workers to Mexico, Canada, and the Cayman Islands to buy those same drugs at a fraction of the cost.

The practice joins the more established trend of Americans going abroad for dental work and surgery. Only a relative smattering of employers have embraced what is known as “pharmacy tourism,” but state governments are intrigued by it, and it looks likely to grow as specialty drug prices put financial pressure on employers.

Retail prescription drug costs totaled $335 billion in 2018, 2.5% above the 2017 total, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

But the retail drug figures don’t include most specialty drugs, which are usually administered in doctors’ offices or in hospital settings. Novartis’s Zolgensma, a one-time gene therapy used to treat a rare condition in babies called spinal muscular astrophy, costs $2.1 million.

Some specialty drugs can be purchased from drug stores, and that’s where pharmacy tourism programs come in. The programs have been around for several years, but Utah brought greater awareness to the concept when it started its program for public employees in 2018.

The Utah Experience

The Utah program covers all travel costs to Mexico for the patient and a companion, and patients have no out-of-pocket costs for the drugs, Travis Tolley, clinical operations director of Utah’s Public Employees Health Program, said in an interview.

In addition, patients receive $500 each time they travel to Tijuana to pick up a 90-day supply of a covered drug, making it possible for employees to pocket as much as $2,000 a year, he said.

Ten Utah public employees participated in the program in 2019, although almost 400 are eligible to buy the 14 drugs covered by the program, Tolley said.

The program has saved the state between $225,000 and $250,000, Tolley said.

That’s less than the $1 million a year that some state officials had hoped for.

“We’ve seen slow growth over time,” Tolley said. “As the word continues to get out and as more people try it out, we think it will continue to grow.”

In October 2019 the state expanded the program to include Canada. No one has yet gone to Canada, but that may prove to be a more popular destination than Mexico, he said.

Following Utah’s example, the Washington state legislature is considering a bill that would allow the state employee health plan to set up a pharmaceutical tourism program in Vancouver, British Columbia, for the approximately 500,000 employees and family members the state covers.

State Sen. Karen Keiser (D), sponsor of the legislation, said in an interview that it could take several years for the bill to be approved, but “it’s brought forward a lot of interest,” including from state employees who are looking to save money for high-cost drugs.

Among private-sector employers, Wagstaff Inc., a manufacturer of aluminum casting equipment with just under 500 employees based in Spokane Valley, Wash., began its pharmacy tourism program to Mexico in 2018, Wade Larson, director of human resources, said in an interview. Wagstaff works with Medical Travel Option in Dallas, which administers the program and makes the travel arrangements.

Seven Wagstaff employees used the program in 2019, saving the company $200,000, Larson said. The employees, who participate voluntarily, receive $500 each time they make the trip to Tijuana for 90 days of drug supplies, he said.

Most Popular Prescriptions

Utah is one of 12 U.S. employers with self-insured plans that work with Provide Rx Pharma, a Tijuana pharmacy program that operates in conjunction with the local Hospital Angeles. Provide Rx has a nondisclosure agreement with most of the employers.

AbbVie Inc.’s Humira and Amgen Inc.’s Enbrel, both used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, were the most common medications bought by the U.S. employers’ 63 patients who traveled to Tijuana in 2019, general manager Javier Ojeda, the pharmacy program’s general manager, said in an interview.

The cost for six pens for self-injection of Humira would be $16,464 in the U.S., compared with $5,820 in Mexico, Ojeda said.

The drugs chosen for the program are specialty drugs for chronic conditions such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis, based on whether the savings are enough to justify the cost of funding the trip and payments to employees, Ojeda said.

A representative of Provide Rx, which works through health insurance brokers with the 12 employers, typically meets patients at the San Diego airport and drives them 20 minutes across the border to Hospital Angeles in Tijuana.

Patients meet there with a Mexican doctor who authorizes a 90-day supply of the drug, and the drug is delivered to the patient at the hospital. The patient then returns to the U.S.

“The first time they are nervous,” Ojeda said of participants. “But we guide them. We have U.S. drivers and case managers” who stay with patients the entire trip. Eighty percent of the U.S. patients come back, he said.

Savings of 50% to 60%

ScriptSourcing LLC in Baltimore arranges pharmacy travel for three or four people a month who work for the same number of companies, Zachary Jones, senior sales executive said in an interview. Patients usually travel to either the Cayman Islands or Mexico, he said.

Patients can go on an employer-sponsored “mini-vacation” during which they get their medications, Jones said.

Savings for the employers are 50% to 60% of what they would have paid for high-dollar specialty medications, Jones said. The savings for Humira could be $50,000 a year, he said.

If there are other ways for employers to save money on drug costs that don’t involve travel, those options are examined first, he said. “Financially, it doesn’t make sense unless that’s the only option on the table,” he said.

FDA-Approved

Brokers who work with the employers say the drugs are the same as those made by U.S. manufacturers and are approved for sale in the U.S. by the FDA.

“We’re doing everything in compliance with the FDA rules,” said Curry Willix, founder and chief executive officer of Medical Travel Option in Dallas, which administers the program for five U.S. employers.

Individuals are legally able to bring 90-day supplies of medicines for their own use into the U.S., she said.

Still, the Food and Drug Administration said in an email that it “cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness of medicine purchased outside the U.S. For these reasons, the FDA recommends only obtaining medicines from legal sources in the U.S.”

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America doesn’t have a position on pharmaceutical tourism, a spokesman for the organization said in an email.

A Case for Importing Drugs

Utah state Rep. Norm Thurston (R) sponsored the legislation that led to creation of his state’s program.

“It’s a fabulous idea,” Thurston said. But, he added, “it’s ridiculous that we have to do it to save money.”

A better approach would be to import the drugs from Mexico, he said. But, “For the time being we’ll live within the constraints of federal law.”

Drug importation is authorized by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for drugs that don’t post a risk to public health, but the federal government so far has not approved it.

The Trump administration in December 2019 proposed allowing states to work with wholesalers or pharmacies to import certain drugs from Canada. Colorado, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have expressed interest in the idea.

By Sara Hansard

Flavored E-Cigarettes Could Be Allowed in Washington Under New Proposal

February 4th, 2020|

From The Stranger

Washington’s fans of e-cigarettes just got a flavorful hit of good news.

After months of dealing with Gov. Jay Inslee’s ban on all flavored e-cigarettes, the local e-cigarette industry was bracing for lawmakers to make that flavor ban permanent. But after a committee hearing yesterday, the proposed bill banning flavors has now been changed to allow flavored e-cigarettes in Washington state.

The Washington State Senate approved a legislative amendment yesterday that dramatically changes their proposed flavored vape ban. Under the approved amendment, flavors are no longer banned but rather are restricted to only being sold at retailers that only allow access to people over the age of 21. Tobacco-flavored and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes would still be allowed to be sold in convenience stores.

Lawmakers have been trying to move quickly to update the state’s vapor rules before Inslee’s emergency ban on flavored vapes expires this Friday. Inslee called for the emergency ban on flavorings in September of last year after thousands of people across the country fell ill with a sometimes-fatal lung injury believed to be caused by vaping. Flavorings were never thought to be causing the illness, yet Inslee still went after the flavored products anyway.

Lawmakers appeared to be ready to do the same, proposing a bill that created an outright ban on any flavor of e-cigarettes other than tobacco. But the Senate’s Health & Long Term Care Committee unanimously approved an amendment Monday afternoon that retreats from the ban. In addition to allowing flavored e-cigarettes, the amendment, proposed by Sen. Annette Cleveland (D—Vancouver), institutes a new 37 percent sales tax on flavored vapor products.

The retreat from the flavor ban did not seem controversial among the committee’s members, although Sen. Karen Keiser, a powerful Democrat from south King County, made an ambiguous statement that more work needs to be done on the bill before it becomes law.

“I also think we might well have more work to do on these flavors, but I do think this is a positive step,” Keiser said Monday. “And this bill will be going to the next step and we’ve got more work to do ahead of us.”

The bill’s new sales tax on vapor products appeared more controversial during Monday’s hearing than the bill’s permitting of flavored e-cigarettes. Sen. Emily Randall, a Democrat from Bremerton, said she was worried about the impact of the new vape tax on the poor.

“I continue to be concerned that we are leveling higher and higher sales taxes, some of the most regressive taxes, on hard-working members of our community,” Randall said.

Sen. Randi Becker, a Republican from Eatonville, proposed a second amendment that would have removed any new regulations on vape flavors and instead made only vitamin E acetate illegal. Vitamin E acetate is the chemical believed to have caused the vape lung injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Becker said her bill was aimed at narrowly blocking the cause of the crisis.

“For me it was looking at what is the reality—it was the vitamin E acetate [that caused the lung injuries],” Becker said during Monday’s hearing.

Becker’s amendment failed.

Sen. Ann Rivers, a Republican from La Center, said she was worried that the strict nicotine limits in the bill would create a large black market for e-cigarettes and that people, including young people, would still be able to get unregulated black market vape products.

“Just this weekend I had the chance to visit with some high school kids from my district who informed me that they didn’t care what we did with this because they had the ability to go across the border and get whatever they want,” Rivers said.

Inslee’s vape ban has been criticized—including extensively by this newspaper—for inadvertently creating a black market for these flavored nicotine products. Inslee himself has admitted that flavorings were never believed to be causing the lung injury. It’s not flavors, but rather additives found in black market vapes that are getting people sick and killing them. But Inslee’s ban on flavorings does nothing to address the problems caused by the black market—in fact it creates another incentive for people to go looking on the (entirely unregulated) black market for the products that are no longer legally available.

The Senate’s new vape regulations are still far from being made into law—they still need to go through the Senate Ways and Means Committee before they can get any votes on the Senate floor. New amendments can be proposed and voted on, so the flavor ban could come back. But it looks like, for now at least, state Senators might be in agreement with The Stranger that regulation is better than prohibition.

By Lester Black

E-News: Passing the Senate

February 3rd, 2020|

Dear Neighbors,

As the legislative session continues, I am continuing to shepherd bills through the Senate that take on important issues. We have passed three of my bills to control skyrocketing prescription drug costs, SB 6087, SB 6088, and SB 6113, out of the Health & Long Term Care Committee. We also had strong pubic support for my insulin cost containment bills in the Ways and Means Committee hearing and I am hoping to get them to the Rules committee and onto the Senate floor soon.

We have also passed several bills out of the Senate, which will now go on to the House.

On Friday, the Senate unanimously passed my bill, SB 6170, which would modernize the state plumbing code for the first time in 45 years, bring more young people into the field, and lower costs to consumers. I can’t say it better than in this letter I received from a veteran plumber:

“Senate Bill 6170 is an important piece of legislation that affects our consumers, employees, and our businesses. As someone who’s worked in plumbing for over 20 years, I can’t even begin to tell you how much the industry has changed since I started, let alone 1973 which is the last time the laws governing plumbing have been updated.

“This piece of legislation will give consumers much needed protections by adding certification visibility. So when a plumbing emergency happens, and you call someone, you’ll know who arrives is a certified plumber by seeing that certification and knowing you’re in good hands. Consumers will also see more stable pricing. Allowing us to use technology as simple as cell phone video, this will facilitate plumbing contractors like us to be able to serve more customers efficiently without them having to pay for two plumbers to provide basic services one plumber could easily complete on their own.”

We have also passed SB 5457 with a strong bipartisan majority of 31 votes. This bill provides transparency in contracts for large public works projects like schools and protects the public by ensuring fair competition in the bidding process.

In Olympia

It is such a pleasure to meet with constituents who come to the state Capitol, like these excellent occupational therapy students from Green River Community College. If you’d like to follow what I’m working on in Olympia, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.

Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch.

Always,

Senator Karen Keiser

Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore