Monday, June 24, 2002

Drug discount plan likely won't start until spring

500,000 Ohioans with no insurance could benefit

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A state prescription-drug discount program for senior citizens and disabled people probably won't go into operation until spring, a state official says.

        After months of haggling, the legislature last month approved the program, which was strongly supported by Gov. Bob Taft, as part of its latest budget package.

        Roland Hornbostel, the Ohio Department of Aging's chief of planning, development and evaluation, said it would take about nine months to get the program ready.

        He told the Columbus Dispatch for a story Sunday that rules must be developed and approved, then the department must contract with a pharmacy-benefits manager to arrange discounts and negotiate rebates with pharmaceutical manufacturers.

        When ready, the program could help as many as 500,000 Golden Buckeye Card holders who have no insurance coverage for prescription drugs.

        Recipients of Medicaid — the health insurance program for the poor, blind and disabled — already have prescription drug coverage.

        A similar program has been in effect since September in West Virginia.

        Kim Fetty, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, said residents of that state have saved more than $2.1 million since the program's inception, with an average discount of 17 percent off retail prices.

        She said brand-name drugs are discounted about 13 percent and generic drugs as much as 60 percent. Additional manufacturers' rebates are being negotiated by Advanced PCS, the company that manages the West Virginia program.

        State Sen. Robert F. Hagan, D-Youngstown, doesn't expect the Ohio program to generate nearly that level of savings.

        “They're offering something that doesn't amount to anything more than you could get with a Reader's Digest coupon,” he said. “I can't see more than 5 percent. If you shop around, you can do better than that.”

        Mr. Hagan is sponsoring his own prescription-drug discount bill, which would require the state to negotiate, perhaps in a cooperative effort with other states, on bulk purchases from pharmacy manufacturers.

        He said this would virtually guarantee a 50 percent savings.

        Much of the savings would be passed on to consumers, and the rest would pay for the administration.

        “If you can't manage a drug-discount program on that kind of money, you're a poor manager,” said Mr. Hagan, whose legislation is going nowhere in the Republican-dominated legislature.


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