Saturday, September 27, 2003

Fletcher health-care plan pushes Rx reform

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Republican Ernie Fletcher on Friday added to his previous health-care proposals, saying as governor he could lower the cost of health insurance and improve the state's cash-strapped Medicaid system.

Fletcher met with reporters at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport as part of a tour promoting his plan - much of which hinges on what he called "disease management."

Fletcher said his complete plan would help reduce the number of prescriptions currently being over-prescribed, save the state's Medicaid program millions and improve overall health care for Medicaid recipients.

Kentuckians also could see lower health insurance rates by increasing the number of insurance companies competing to offer coverage in the state, he said.

"This is a plan that shows the difference, I think, between managing disease and taking care of patients, rather than focusing on what bureaucrats can do to run health care," Fletcher said. "That's why I think we need a physician to make a house call to Frankfort."

Democratic nominee Ben Chandler called Fletcher's proposal a "non-plan," and said much of it was a regurgitation of what he has already proposed. Chandler said some of Fletcher's assertions, such as his plan to reduce the cost of doctors' medical malpractice insurance premiums, were "absurd" and unworkable.

"That's a funny, silly little sound bite. But let's look at the facts," Chandler said. "The facts are that he doesn't know what he's talking about."

Fletcher estimated Kentucky's Medicaid program could see a yearly net savings of about $240 million under his plan. Savings would come through a reduction in the number of unnecessary patient prescriptions and health programs for education, prevention and disease management, he said.

Chandler said he would appoint a surgeon general to carry out education and prevention programs throughout the state.

By working with insurance companies to reduce "regulatory barriers," Fletcher estimated, in two years the state could attract an additional 20 insurance companies.

This would maintain patient safety while increasing competition among insurance companies and by extension lowering rates, Fletcher said. Patients with pre-existing conditions and others considered "high risk" would also be covered in high risk insurance pools, he said.

Under Fletcher's proposal, seniors could purchase a "Kentucky Prescription Help Card" for a starting price of between $20 and $25 that would save them between 25 and 30 percent - about $460 per year - on prescription drugs. The state would negotiate those rates with prescription drug companies, Fletcher said.

Chandler has proposed the state join a prescription drug "consortium" with other states so the Medicaid program could buy drugs at bulk rates. Chandler estimated that would save the Medicaid program about $150 million.

He said Friday he would then push legislation to mandate drug companies to sell drugs to uninsured people at the same Medicaid bulk prices.

Like Chandler, Fletcher wants to establish medical review panels aimed at sifting through malpractice claims looking for frivolous lawsuits.

However, Chandler said recent studies have shown caps on non-economic damages do not result in lower premiums for doctors.

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