Drug Discount Bill Expected To Be Enacted
The Assembly on Wednesday approved a bill (AB 2911) that would require pharmaceutical companies to offer prescription drug discounts to uninsured Californians or face exclusion from Medi-Cal, the Sacramento Bee reports. Medi-Cal is the state's Medicaid program (Benson/Lin, Sacramento Bee, 8/31).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Wednesday said the measure "is a critical step in addressing access to affordable health care." He added that he "look[s] forward" to signing the bill into law (Office of the Governor release, 8/30).
Under the legislation, pharmaceutical companies would have up to three years to offer the discounts or risk having their medications removed from the Med-Cal formulary. The state currently purchases about $2 billion in prescription drugs annually for Medi-Cal beneficiaries (Sacramento Bee, 8/31).
Drug companies would be required to provide discounts of up to 40% on brand-name drugs and 60% on generic medications. Discounts would be available to uninsured families earning less than 300% of the federal poverty level (Folmar, San Jose Mercury News, 8/30).
The Oakland Tribune reports that the measure is expected to provide discounts for about five million Californians (Geissinger, Oakland Tribune, 8/30).
Opponents of the bill, including advocates for low-income people, say it could prevent Medi-Cal beneficiaries from obtaining needed medications (Sacramento Bee, 8/31).
Several newspapers last week published editorials and opinion pieces addressing the legislation. Summaries appear below:
- Peter Pitts, Orange County Register: AB 2911 "isn't about helping poor people get drugs," Pitts, director if the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, writes. According to Pitts, the measure is "about imposing price controls on drugs," a step that "will set back medical progress" and "could create a disastrous ripple effect across the entire nation due to the size of [California's] economy and the high profile of its governor" (Pitts, Orange County Register, 8/30).
San Diego Union-Tribune: The state should "use the clout afforded by Medi-Cal's $4 billion in annual spending on prescription drugs to arrange volume discounts," a Union-Tribune editorial states, adding, "But using that clout in voluntary negotiations is one thing. Relying on a punitive, counterproductive law driven by spite is another" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/29).
- Benjamin Zycher, San Diego Union-Tribune: "The policy now endorsed by Schwarzenegger mortgages the future in favor of the present, and thus will do serious damage to the process by which patients both now and in the future derive the benefits of technological advance," Zycher, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, writes in a Union-Tribune opinion piece (Zycher, San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/28).
San Jose Mercury News: The compromise reached between Schwarzenegger and legislative Democrats on AB 2911 "is a significant victory for California" and "offers hope" that the state "will find a way to resolve its remaining two major health care issues: providing coverage to the state's seven million uninsured residents and getting a handle on skyrocketing costs," according to a Mercury News editorial (San Jose Mercury News, 8/27).
KPBS' "KPBS News" on Thursday reported on the legislation. The segment includes comments from Earl Lui, senior attorney with Consumers' Union (Goldberg, "KPBS News," KPBS, 8/31).
The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.