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Wise seeks input from residents for next drug move

October 01, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A cabinet-level office to negotiate prescription drug prices and a central state pharmacy are two recommendations of the Pharmaceutical Cost Management Council that West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise said Thursday can cut costs and red tape.

In the first of five town hall meetings on the prescription drug issue, Wise said at Martinsburg's City Hospital that he is undecided on whether the council's recommendations should be the subject of a special session of the Legislature this year before he leaves office, or be taken up by legislators during the regular session in 2005.

"I'm seeking your input because we've moved another step," Wise said, referring to the recommendations of the council.

The average annual increase in prescription drug prices for the state was 19.7 percent from 1998 through 2000, according to figures supplied at the meeting, the fastest-rising component of health care, Wise said.

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West Virginia is expected to pay approximately $326 million on drugs for 300,000 people on Medicaid and $113.6 million for the 200,000 covered by the Public Employees Insurance Agency, or PEIA, this year, he said. The Medicaid figure alone is enough to provide nursing home beds for 10,000 West Virginians, Wise said.

"The brand name prescription drug manufacturers have not participated in the process so far," said Wise.

The council's recommendation to change that includes creation of a prescription drug advocate, a cabinet-level officer with the power to negotiate drug prices with drug makers using the Federal Supply Schedule, the price the U.S. government pays for medications, as a benchmark.

The prescription drug czar would negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicaid, PEIA and the state's workers' compensation program, Wise said. Private industries also would be able to take advantage of the state's buying power, he said.

"This is not cost control. It's free enterprise negotiations," said Dr. Wayne Spiggle, a member of the council. Drug manufacturers would benefit by gaining market share through the state's buying power, he said.

The council also recommends the creation of a central-fill pharmacy, where prescription drug companies could supply medications to the state at deeply discounted prices, or free. West Virginians who meet the income requirements would be able to receive their medications through the program.

Spiggle said the pharmacy would cost about $1 million a year to run, but would save the state far more by reducing the hospital stays and emergency room visits of those with chronic medical conditions.

Unnecessary hospital visits could be reduced by 60 percent and emergency room visits by more than 40 percent, Spiggle said.

"Their products cost them pennies and they sell them for dollars," Spiggle said of the pharmaceutical companies.

"There's an incredible cost when people don't get their medications," said Ann Stottlemyer, commissioner of the state's Bureau of Senior Services.

Unlike other states, Wise said the plan does not look to the reimportation of drugs from Canada or other countries as a means of solving the problem. The governor said the state will expand efforts with other states to negotiate for lower prices from the pharmaceutical companies.

Former state delegate Vicki Douglas was among those who want a special session. She said waiting until the next year could mean the proposals get lost in other legislative business.

Others expressed skepticism that a new government program would solve the problem.

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