Budget, transportation issues being negotiated

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By Sen. Steve Newman
23rd District

    With only days remaining until the 2013 session is scheduled to adjourn, the Virginia General Assembly is negotiating the highest profile measures under consideration: the budget and transportation.  As session is winding down, work on all legislation must be done by this Saturday, Feb. 23.
    The House and Senate named negotiators to hammer out differences over their respective versions of amendments to the Commonwealth’s 2012-2014 Budget and the transportation funding bill this week.  On the budget, the two sides are remarkably close; on transportation the distance is much greater.
    The budget bill has fewer differences this year than most years.  While the Medicaid issue remains a stumbling block I remain hopeful that we can get this done over the next few days.
    When it comes to transportation I have supported a plan that is supported by every conservative member of the Senate and the Attorney General. That plan would have met the requirements set out by the Governor as well.
    Clearly the governor is to be commended for taking a bold move to fix this problem without raising taxes on working Virginians. Unfortunately, the Senate version of the bill ended up being a main tax increase that I could not support. During the next few days we hope the Senate will back off of the taxes and fix transportation in a more reasonable way.
    Last week, the House committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions reported my bill, SB 1285, which allows generic substitution for biologic drugs while requiring full disclosure of both the precise drug the patient is receiving and the retail costs of both the generic and brand therapies. This bill will be heard on the floor of the House this week.
    My bill, SB 1285, allows for the substitution of an interchangeable biosimilar for a brand biologic drug. It invokes standard record keeping but provides full transparency by requiring the disclosure to the patient of the retail costs of both the brand biologic and the interchangeable biosimilar. The bill also asks the pharmacist to notify the prescribing physician of a substitution within a reasonable amount of time, but contains a sunset on the prescriber and cost notifications that coincides with when we anticipate the FDA will have finalized their guidelines on interchangeable designation. Therefore, all parties will have to come back to the General Assembly in 2015 to determine what substitution policies are necessary once all pertinent information is made available.
I think any legislation prior to FDA guidance is premature. However, with the ramming of generic-stifling brand-advocated legislation through the House of Delegates, our options this session were to pass a permanent bill that protects the market share of a few companies, or to pass a compromise bill with a sunset provision that protects patient access and provides cost transparency. I think the unanimous approval of the Senate over SB 1285 indicates that we have made the right choice, and successfully struck the delicate balance between innovation and patient access.
    The final week of the Virginia General Assembly will be a whirlwind of legislation. I look forward to updating you on the results of our finals days in session.
Until then, have a great week.

(The Senate Republican Caucus contributed to this newsletter.)