West Virginia Governor, Pharmacies Compromise on Prescription Drug Plan
After pharmacists and drug store chain operators balked at West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood's (R) plan to provide seniors with discounts on prescription drugs because it would cost them $50 million per year, the state has worked out a compromise plan, the Charleston Gazette reports. Underwood signed an executive order on Oct. 18 creating the Senior Prescription Assistance Network II (SPAN-II), under which Medicare beneficiaries without medication coverage and incomes up to 300% of the poverty level would receive a discount card. Underwood said the plan would save seniors an average of $500 per year in medication costs, but lobbyists for the pharmacies said that "few if any pharmacists would accept" the discount card because they would have to absorb the cost of the discounts. According to the compromise worked out Nov. 1, the plan will afford seniors discounts on brand-name medications capped at 10%, compared to the 10-15% Underwood initially proposed. Furthermore, seniors will pay a $3 per-prescription filling fee to pharmacists, and the state will cover all the program's administrative costs. An estimate of how much seniors might save per year under the new program "was not immediately available," the Gazette reports. Seniors will likely receive their discount cards in six to eight weeks (Kabler, Charleston Gazette, 11/1). "[S]igning a piece of paper won't solve this crisis, nor will simply handing out discount cards," a Gazette editorial states, adding that the "voluntary nature" of Underwood's program "doomed it from the start." Instead of Underwood's program, the editorial suggests including low-income seniors in the state Public Employees Health Insurance discount program, which would give seniors access to lower drug prices the group could negotiate because of its size. But the editorial says Underwood would not propose such a plan because it "would cut into drug manufacturers products. And drug manufacturers ... have been very, very good" to Underwood. Mylan Pharmaceuticals executive officers have donated $60,000 to Underwood's primary and general re-election campaigns. The editorial notes that after the coal industry gave Underwood $500,000 for his 1996 gubernatorial campaign, he "rewarded them with the most subservient and submissive administration in recent memory." Stating that "Underwood's campaign donors often prove costly to ordinary West Virginians," the editorial concludes, "If Underwood wins next Tuesday, the influence of pharmaceutical manufacturers will undoubtedly prove costly to West Virginia seniors in lost opportunities for change and reform" (Charleston Gazette, 11/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.