(08/08/2006)
By Bob Weaver

So far, it appears the West Virginia Legislature's plan to reduce the cost of prescription drugs to Mountain State residents is a flop.

Don't blame your local pharmacist.

A lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, just urged WV not to impose new rules requiring drug firms to report advertising expenses and identify physicians who receive gifts, grants and payments - perks to physicians to buy their drugs.

After lots of media attention two years ago by the WV Legislature, The state Pharmaceutical Cost Management Council has been making noise, with virtually no results to control the high cost of prescriptions.

One plan was to get the state on the federal drug registry to reduce costs.

Didn't happen.

The drug manufacturers, trying to relieve pressure from legislators, agreed to set up a web site that would help WV residents find cheaper drugs, a project that was later called a PR gesture with few actual results.

They said they spent about a million bucks on the web program.

The council decided to stick with a previous decision that requires drug companies to submit general information to the state about how much they spend on advertising their drugs.

The manufacturers have told the state such regulations could lead to "massive, unintended consequences."

A "MASSIVE, UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE"?

Clinics in West Virginia and across the country providing free birth control to low-income men and women are facing a crisis over contraceptive pills and patches after the top supplier drastically raised prices.

Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Inc. increased their public health price from a few pennies to more than $20 in some cases.

A 30-day supply of one type of pill that once cost a penny now costs $21.01. The Ortho Evra patch ran at $12.15, but now costs about $24.

West Virginia Family Planning cannot buy the company's products anymore, the company being the primary supplier, and is the exclusive provider of the birth control patch.

The WV Family Planning program provides birth control to about 59,000 low-income people.

"This price increase comes at a terrible time in the life of the public health-care system," said Marilyn Keefe, vice president for public policy at National Family Planning Reproductive Health Association.

Ortho-McNeil said the company followed federal Medicaid pricing formulas that change every financial quarter, but they are now charging the maximum.

Keefe said "Their stance was 'we're allowed to do this, we're able to do this, we're doing it.' They should be ashamed of themselves for raising their product prices to a level they know the public health system can't handle."

THE MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG SURPRISE

Seniors, who have been excited about the Bush administration's new plan to help pay for prescriptions, are now hitting some walls, five months after the program began.

It's a "hole" or "coverage gap" in the program.

It's a complaint being lodged by seniors who have chronic illnesses or take expensive drugs.

After getting about 75% of their costs paid by Medicare, those who have used over $2,250 in drugs since January 1, must start paying the full price for the medication.

Seniors are asking their druggists why they're now paying $300 for their refill when they were paying $30.

It's no mistake.

It's the way the program works.

When seniors reach the "coverage gap" after their plan pays $2,250 in a year, Medicare won't pay any more until they spend $3,600 out-of-pocket for that year.

The Bush administrations prescription drug program allowed drug companies to continue charging full-fare for their prescriptions, with the taxpayers picking up the tab, adding the cost to the burgeoning national debt.


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