Sunday, January 19, 2003

Taft 'frustrated' drug firms not joining prescription plan

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Gov. Bob Taft has been in contact with the four drug makers he singled out for not joining his Golden Buckeye prescription drug plan, but has not gotten all of them to change their minds, a Taft spokeswoman said Friday.

Each of the drug makers - Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co. - met a Friday deadline Mr. Taft had imposed to respond to a letter the governor wrote to them on Monday, spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey said.

In his letters, Mr. Taft told the companies to comply with his demand that they provide discounts for seniors through the Golden Buckeye plan or through their own card plans. At least two of the companies insist they won't join Golden Buckeye, Ms. Sharkey said. She would not identify the companies.

"He's growing increasingly frustrated that they prefer that they promote their own products rather than cooperate with us," she said.

She said Mr. Taft will focus on the issue after delivering his State of the State speech Wednesday, and if no progress is made, he will work toward passage of a likely ballot issue that would require the state to negotiate drug prices directly with the drug makers. The drug makers are strongly opposed to that plan.

"If we don't get any cooperation, he will have no choice but to back the ballot issue," Ms. Sharkey said.

Mr. Taft also told the companies that he would ask Attorney General Jim Petro to investigate possible antitrust violations if he finds evidence that the companies engaged in an illegal boycott of the Golden Buckeye plan.

On Thursday, Pfizer chairman Henry McKinnell, in a response to Mr. Taft's letter, said his company had no discussions with the others about Golden Buckeye. "I am disappointed that you would assert such things," Mr. McKinnell said in a letter to Mr. Taft.

AstraZeneca spokeswoman Rachel Bloom-Baglin said Friday that company officials will meet with Mr. Taft next week to discuss the issue.

"We look forward to working collaboratively with the governor and his administration to ensure that Ohio seniors have access to the medications they need," she said.

The Golden Buckeye program provides discounts ranging from 13 percent to 21 percent on name-brand prescription drugs and 23 percent to 43 percent on generic and mail-ordered drugs. Any Ohioan 60 or older can get a Golden Buckeye card.

However, Mr. Taft's office has said that without the participation of the four drug makers, which represent about 65 percent of the discount drug market in the state, the plan likely won't work.

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