Bush Administration Asks Supreme Court to Allow Maine Rx Discount Program
The Bush administration last Friday asked the Supreme Court to reject a pharmaceutical industry appeal and allow Maine to enact a program that could force drug makers to reduce the prices of prescription drugs sold in the state, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 6/1). Maine Rx, approved in May 2000, would allow the state to serve as a pharmacy benefit manager for Maine's 325,000 residents without prescription drug coverage. Under the program, the state would negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for rebates on prescription drugs equal to or larger than those set by federal law for the Medicaid program. The state would pass the rebate to pharmacies, which would offer a discount to Maine Rx enrollees. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has challenged the constitutionality of Maine Rx in court, alleging that the program violates interstate commerce laws (American Health Line, 5/13). In addition, PhRMA said that the program has "nothing to do with the purpose or structure of Medicaid" and violates federal Medicaid law (New York Times, 6/1). PhRMA filed suit in November 2000 to block Maine Rx, but a federal appeals court upheld the program in a decision issued last May. PhRMA has appealed the case to the Supreme Court (American Health Line, 5/13). In a brief filed last Friday, Solicitor General Theodore Olson rejected PhRMA's arguments and said that "there was no reason for the justices to review the program." The brief, the administration's first official statement on Maine Rx, places the administration "squarely at odds with the pharmaceutical industry," the Times reports.
In the brief, Olson agreed with PhRMA that no "Medicaid purpose appears to be served by a state program focusing" on a population that does not qualify for Medicaid, but he argued that the Supreme Court should allow Maine to "demonstrate that its program served some purpose related to Medicaid." Olson also rejected PhRMA's argument that Maine Rx violates interstate commerce laws, pointing out that prescription drug discounts received through the program "would not be out of state ... since the discounts would result simply from the sale of the drug companies' products within Maine" (Pear, New York Times, 6/1). Although the Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to hear PhRMA's appeal, does not have to accept Olson's recommendations, the brief "encouraged" supporters of Maine Rx. "The decision by the solicitor general brings us one step closer to implementation of this important law -- and represents a victory for consumers in our state," Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said (Canfield, AP/Newsday, 6/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.