Senate approves bill on Medicaid drug costs

Health officials would negotiate for rebates

April 04, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Senate approved a bill yesterday that is designed to lower prescription drug costs for the state's Medicaid program.

The proposal, which goes to the House of Delegates, would require the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to negotiate with drug companies for rebates on prescription drugs.

The department would compile a list of drugs for which the state is getting rebates, and ask doctors to use the list when writing prescriptions for Medicaid patients. Doctors could prescribe other drugs, but only after getting the approval of state health officials. It is estimated the legislation could save the state $30 million a year.

"This is extorting the pharmaceutical companies that have been extorting my constituents for the past 20 years," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.

The legislation, approved by the Senate 37-10, is part of a nationwide effort to reduce Medicaid costs. The bill has been opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, which argues that the bill would unfairly limit patients' choice.

Some health care reform advocates have condemned the industry for conducting what they say was a deceptive campaign about the bill. The Sun reported March 9 that an industry group, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, hired a Washington lobbying firm to try to derail the legislation in Maryland.

The firm teamed with a Michigan-based nonprofit group, the Consumer Alliance, to generate opposition to the proposal. The apparent goal was to make it seem there was significant grass-roots opposition from consumers.

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