It’s almost impossible for the legislature to consider any repeal of any part of the minimum markup law, also known as the Unfair Sales Act. But the near-impossible will happen when the state Senate Committee on Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism holds a public hearing on Wednesday at 10:15 on a bill that would repeal the minimum markup on prescription drugs.
The bill, authored by state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and state Rep Jim Ott (R-Mequon), would allow the sale of prescription drugs for less than cost, just like in many other states.
Those stories about Walmart selling prescriptions for $4? Can’t do that here under the current law. “Prices may be higher in CA, HI, MN, MT, PA, TN and WI,” according to the fine print. Other retail chains are bound by the law, too, so if grandma needs her prescription arthritis pain medication, she’s going to pay the full price. By one estimate, Wisconsin consumers could save $35 million if the minimum markup on prescription drugs was repealed.
It should be fascinating to see the usual suspects who are opposed to any tampering with the misnamed Unfair Sales Act testify in favor of charging higher drug prices to Wisconsin consumers for their own good. Perhaps that’s why the Senate scheduled the hearing with less than 48-hour notice and are holding it in a small conference room at the Capitol.
(The committee will also be holding a public hearing on tractor rollover prevention. Somebody should point out to the Senate that if you fall off a tractor, your pain meds will cost more under the current law.)
Opponents of the repeal of the law for prescription drugs will claim that the law is to protect the “mom and pop” pharmacies from the predation of big chain stores. Of course, that’s not true. A study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty showed there is no relationship between the existence of minimum markup laws and the number of small businesses in a state.
So who or what are they really protecting?
Kwik Trip is registered as lobbying against this bill. They are hardly a “mom and pop” chain, considering they purchased the PDQ gas station chain to push their total number of stores to over 600. They don’t even sell prescription drugs, but they’re opposed to the bill because they fear the minimum mark up on gasoline could be next.
By the way, what is the minimum mark up on those cheap bananas at Kwik Trip?
They’re joined by the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association in opposing the bill, even though their members would probably benefit from cheaper drug prices. But they will do anything, bear any price for diabetes medication for their employees, if they can to avoid the precedent of having the minimum markup repealed on any product to avoid having it repealed on gasoline.
The Wisconsin Grocers Association is also opposed to the repeal of the minimum markup on prescription drugs. Their goal is to protect their stores from – wait for it – competing with other grocery stores that offer cheap bananas and milk to attract customers. Apparently, some grocers are more equal than others, according to the Wisconsin Grocers Association.
What’s really interesting is the opposition to the bill by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. Apparently, it’s okay to be opposed to increases in the minimum wage but it’s okay for their employees to pay a minimum markup on prescription drugs? Are restaurant owners really afraid of low prescription drug prices?
So tell your grandma it’s important that she pays higher prices for her medications so she can also pay higher prices for the cat food she’s forced to eat because of how much her medications are costing her. And she can thank her local Kwik Trip and Woodman’s grocery stores for making it possible.