Costly prescription drugs could become available to Washingtonians in the form of far less expensive generic products, thanks to legislation signed into law Wednesday by the governor.

“It’s common knowledge that Americans pay far more for everyday prescription drugs than our neighbors to the north and south,” Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), said. “People shouldn’t have to go broke paying for common drugs like insulin instead of the less costly, generic alternatives commonly available in other countries.”

Senate Bill 5203, sponsored by Van De Wege, authorizes 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.

“I can’t imagine there’s a household in my district or anyone else’s that wouldn’t welcome more affordable drug prices,” Van De Wege said. “Frankly, I’ve been surprised by the blanket opposition on the other side of the aisle to legislation that is clearly so family friendly.”

The bill passed the Senate twice, first as drafted and then again with House amendments, on identical 28-21 votes. All 21 members of the Senate Republican Caucus voted in opposition both times.

“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, at least for folks here in Washington.”

The new law 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 may purchase generic drugs from the HCA as availability allows.

The law authorizes the HCA to enter into partnerships to purchase and distribute the brand-name drug Insulin, since patent laws prohibit rival companies from producing a brand-name drug. Other companies would still be allowed to develop 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.