ASTHMA: Bill Proposed To Improve Accessibility Of Drug Therapies
Former Olympic athletes Debbie Meyer and Jeanette Bolden stood outside California's state capitol Monday promoting legislation that would provide asthmatic children better access to new drugs, the Sacramento Bee reports. State Assemblyman Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) sponsored AB 1816 "to open up Medi-Cal's formulary ... to any new asthma drug approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration." The bill is in response to an 80% increase in the number of children treated for asthma between 1982 and 1993. Miller notes that California's rate of hospitalization for asthmatic children exceeds the national average by 47% and that "African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be hospitalized for asthma and three times more likely to die from the disease." According to Meyer and Bolden, who are both asthmatic, many children "do not have access to preventative medical care and get only reactive medicine, which may not control asthma."
Not So Fast
The state Department of Health Services, which reviews FDA-approved drugs and decides which ones should be included on the Medi-Cal formulary, charges that the measure "is as much for the benefit of several pharmaceutical companies as it is for children." DHS spokesperson Lea Brooks said the department opposes AB 1816 because "there is already a procedure for physicians who want to write prescriptions for drugs not on the formulary, which she said contains a broad array of proven asthma medications." Brooks noted that "the language in AB 1816 was initially presented to Health Services by Glaxo Wellcome, a pharmaceutical manufacturer with one brand name asthma drug under reconsideration for the formulary and another one that has been denied."
Simply More Education?
Although Brooks concedes that asthmatic kids have high rates of emergency room visits, hospitalization and are often prescribed "inappropriate drug therapies," she said that AB 1816 is not a panacea. "The problem," she says, "is one of educating the providers and the patients on the appropriate use of available drugs and not adding all marketable asthma drugs to the medication list." However, Bolden disagreed, saying, "If kids don't follow through with proper medications, you're limiting their lives. It's a very scary disease for children who can't breathe if they go outside to play" (Bell, 8/11).