Costly prescription drugs could become available to Washingtonians in the form of far less expensive generic products, under legislation passed today by the Senate.

“We want generics to be as cheap and safe as possible,” Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), said. “There are too many everyday medications that are costing households way more than they should.”

Senate Bill 5203, sponsored by Van De Wege, would authorize the state Health Care Authority (HCA) to partner with other states, state agencies and non-profit entities to produce, distribute or purchase generic drugs and would require state-purchased health insurance programs to procure generic drugs through the partnership.

The legislation specifies that the drugs must be produced or distributed by a drug company or generic drug manufacturer registered with the United States Food and Drug Administration, and requires that any HCA partnership result in savings to public and private purchasers and consumers. In addition, local governments, private entities, health carriers and others would be allowed to purchase generic drugs from the HCA as availability allows.

The bill also would also allow the HCA to enter into partnerships to purchase and distribute brand-name insulin drugs, since patent laws prohibit anyone other than the patent holder from producing a brand-name drug. The HCA would still be allowed to enter into partnerships to produce a generic substitute for insulin that the HCA could purchase and distribute at lower prices. In a public hearing on the bill, insulin was spotlighted as an example of a commonly-used medication that still carries high costs for everyday households.

“The higher prices Americans pay for medications that cost far less in other countries is a national disgrace,” Van De Wege said. “This long-overdue legislation will free up money for other important household needs.”

The bill passed on a 28-21 vote, with all 20 Republicans voting in opposition. The 21st vote in opposition was cast by a senator who identifies himself as a Democrat but who has caucused with the Senate Republican Caucus since 2012.