(08/16/2006)
OPINION AND COMMENT By Bob Weaver

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America urged West Virginia 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.

That plan has now been dropped in favor of some general statistics on how the companies are spending money to promote their medications.

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

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

Didn't happen.

The drug manufacturers agreed to set up a web site that would tell WV residents how consumers could get their medications for less money.

An investigation of the site's effectiveness revealed it was a sham.

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

This might be the first "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, Smith said. 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 contracts with independent health clinics around the state that give out the 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 "It's a hope that the company will rethink its decision and reverse those price increases," she said.

Ortho-McNeil said the company followed federal Medicaid pricing formulas that change every financial quarter, the last being July 1. It represented the maximum price the company can charge public health.

Keefe said "Their stance was 'we're allowed to do this, we're able to 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," said Keefe.

Switching birth control pills is not like changing your favorite soda or taking a different route to work. Each pill releases different levels and types of hormones with different effects.


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