PhRMA Files Suit to Halt Vermont Prescription Drug Program
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America on Dec. 13 filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to stop a Vermont program that will offer low-cost prescriptions to residents through Medicaid, the AP/Nando Times reports. PhRMA has asked a U.S District Court judge to suspend Vermont's program, scheduled to begin enrollment Jan. 1, while the suit is pending. The program, known as the Pharmacy Discount Program, has faced opposition from the pharmaceutical industry since it was proposed by Gov. Howard Dean (D). It would allow Vermont Medicaid beneficiaries who lack prescription drug coverage the opportunity to obtain access the discounted prices through the current Medicaid program. Vermont already has a drug program for Medicare beneficiaries with incomes below 150% of the federal poverty level. In addition, the program would also expand access to prescription drug discounts to non-elderly adults with incomes at or below 300% of FPL who currently lack coverage. Although the initiative does not provide long-overdue insurance coverage for prescription drugs within Medicare, it does make it possible for participants to benefit from discounts that average 17.5% in the demonstration's first year. The state estimates that nearly 70,000 state residents who do not have drug coverage would be eligible, including almost 38,000 Medicare beneficiaries. Participants would pay an enrollment fee of up to $24 per year (HHS release, 11/3). According to PhRMA's lawsuit, "The cost and financing of prescription drugs for lower income individuals is an issue of national importance and has been the subject of extensive debate in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government and many state governments." Although she had not been informed of the lawsuit, Vermont Human Services Secretary Jane Kitchel was "not surprised" PhRMA would object to a "small program in a small state" because of the "precedent" the program would set. Although Vermont is the only state that has been granted federal approval for such a program, other states are interested in adopting similar programs, including New Hampshire, which has applied for approval of an "identical program." An HHS spokesperson did not comment, saying the federal agency had not yet been notified of the lawsuit (Sneyd, AP/Nando Times, 12/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.