Thursday, September 19, 2002

Coalition's prescription drug plan gains bipartisan support

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS - A Democratic-backed plan to reduce prescription drug costs in Ohio has gained the support of some Republican officeholders, including state Auditor Jim Petro.

        Under the plan, the state would buy drugs in bulk and negotiate rebates with drug makers.

        A coalition of about 300 interest groups supporting the plan got most Democrats,

        a few Republican legislators and Mr. Petro to sign pledges that they will support the program if they are elected Nov. 5, said Bill Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO and a coalition co-chairman.

        The Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs started collecting signatures Tuesday on petitions to force the Legislature to approve the prescription drug discount program next year.

        “This should not be a partisan issue, and the willingness of some Republicans ... to sign the pledge proves that it should not be,” Mr. Burga said.

        Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, supports a plan he proposed this year to cut prescription drug costs for senior citizens by offering discounts through the Golden Buckeye Card, available to Ohioans age 60 or older. The plan was part of the budget-balancing bill passed in June and is expected to be implemented early next year.

        “We think it's important to walk before we can run,” Mr. Taft said. “Once we get that program up and operating, we'll look at other options, we'll look at this proposal.”

        The coalition's plan is backed by Tim Hagan, the Democratic candidate for governor.

        Mr. Petro's opponent, state Sen. Leigh Herington, also signed the promise to support the plan.

        The coalition decided to go to voters with the Prescription Drug Fair Pricing Act after the Legislature did not consider Democratic-sponsored bills that would have created the more comprehensive program.

        The coalition must file petitions containing 100,626 valid signatures with the Secretary of State's Office by Dec. 27 to compel the new Legislature that will take office in January to pass the act.

        If lawmakers fail to act within the first four months of the year, the coalition then would have three months to collect enough signatures to put the proposed law directly on the ballot in 2003.

        Under the act, the rebates negotiated with drug makers would cover the state's administrative expenses and provide a discount that would be passed along to pharmacies. They would be guaranteed a “writing fee” and would give discounts to anyone enrolled in the program. The state would issue discount cards to all eligible Ohioans who apply for them, including the uninsured, underinsured, senior citizens and the disabled.

        The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is against the proposal. “We do believe this is bad public policy and we will certainly oppose this type of program,” said spokesman Bruce Lott. “It would implement price controls in a way that would limit access to drugs, particularly to Ohio's must vulnerable Medicaid patients.”


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