States Continue to Work for Prescription Drug Discounts
Although President Bush has introduced a plan to provide Medicare beneficiaries with prescription drug discount cards, several states are still moving forward with discount prescription programs of their own, the Los Angeles Times reports. State Medicaid programs are over budget in part because of high drug costs and lawmakers "feel compelled" to assist the elderly with prescription bills, the Times reports. So far, 29 states have enacted prescription drug discount programs. In Maine and Vermont, "controversial" laws give drug discounts to seniors who do not qualify for Medicaid (Gellene, Los Angeles Times, 7/30). Under Maine's program, drug makers are "required" to grant "Medicaid-style rebates" for medicines bought by state residents with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level, many of whom would not qualify for traditional Medicaid assistance (American Health Line, 7/3). Vermont's program is similar (American Health Line, 6/15). Both programs have been challenged in court by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and an appeals court last month temporarily blocked the Vermont program.
Other states have tried different tactics. New Mexico and West Virginia have set up buyers' clubs to build "clout" to negotiate lower drug prices. In California, a law requires pharmacies participating in Medi-Cal to give Medicaid discounts to seniors. Florida and Washington have similar laws. California is also considering a bill that would have drug makers fund the discount (Los Angeles Times, 7/30). In addition, two groups of states are moving forward with plans to form multistate pools for purchasing prescription drugs. The eight-state Northeast Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, modeled after a smaller effort by three New England states, would pool resources in order to "extract larger price concessions from drug companies" to give discounts to Medicaid beneficiaries and eventually middle-class taxpayers who are not covered by state health programs. The Pharmacy Working Group, composed of mostly southern states, is pooling its resources to negotiate discounts for seniors and state and local employees. Eventually, the group might include beneficiaries of Medicaid and private insurance. PhRMA said that it is not opposed to such pools, as long as states do not attempt to "assert their powers as regulators to force drug companies to comply" (Caffrey/Gold, Wall Street Journal, 7/30).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.