Drug action off until 2005

October 12, 2004

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, fearful that many of the legislators who have reached consensus on prescription drug price controls won't survive the November election, wants a special session to act on the measure now.

As laudable as the goal is, we agree with House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, that action is unlikely before December. It's more likely the matter will be taken up in the 2005 session of the Legislature.

His work on prescription drug prices will likely be the last accomplishment as governor for Wise, who didn't run for office after evidence of an extramarital affair came to light.

To deal with the issue of rising prescription prices, Wise began with a series of town hall meetings. The facts that came out were not comforting.


From 1998 through 2000, prescription drugs went up 19.7 percent each year, making it the fastest-growing area of increase in health-care costs.

The state has a big stake in those pricing decisions because this year alone it will pay more than $400 million for the 500,000 citizens covered by Medicaid or the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

The state's Pharmaceutical Cost Management Council recommended creation of a cabinet-level "drug czar" who would negotiate prices with the large pharmaceutical manufacturers and creation of state pharmacy.

In such a facility, which estimates say would cost $1 million a year to run, prescriptions for low-income citizens would be filled with drugs provided at discounts by the large pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Other proposals would have West Virginia join with other states to maximize the group's buying power.

There haven't been serious objections to any of these proposals except the pharmacy, which some lawmakers don't feel can be run for $1 million a year. We've recommended West Virginia seek guidance from other states where such proposals have been enacted.

And, while Wise may not see this package put in place on his watch, it should be passed in some form in the 2005 session. West Virginia can't afford to pay 20 percent more for the drugs it buys next year than it did this year.

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