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Friday, December 27, 2002



[ OUR OPINION ]

Court ruling forces
review of Hawaii’s
prescription drug law


THE ISSUE

A federal appeals court has struck down a Maine state program similar to a Hawaii plan that would provide drug discounts.


LOWER prescription drug prices that are scheduled to go into effect in Hawaii early next year probably will have to be shelved, at least temporarily, because of a federal appeals court's Christmas Eve decision. The court struck down a Maine law on which a statute enacted by Hawaii's last Legislature was based. Governor Lingle has criticized the program but now must be more specific about a workable method to address the issue of rapidly increasing drug prices.

Like the Maine law, the Hawaii program would require pharmaceutical companies to provide drugs at discounted Medicaid prices to uninsured residents earning less than triple the federal poverty level. For example, state Rep. Roy Takumi (D-Pearl City) explains, a person with high cholesterol could buy a month's supply of Lipitor at Longs for $57.47 instead of $78.70. Other discounts are estimated at 18 percent to 25 percent. Up to 228,000 Hawaii residents would qualify for the lower prices.

The Maine law, an expansion of Medicaid, was approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the last days of the Clinton administration and has been supported by the Bush administration. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled that the discounts violated the terms of Medicaid by making pharmaceutical companies bear the brunt of the cost. Financing of other Medicaid programs is provided mainly by the state and federal governments.

A separate Maine law that would allow the state to use Medicaid to impose limits on drug prices paid by other residents is before the U.S. Supreme Court after being upheld by the appeals court. Hawaii legislators scheduled a program patterned after that Maine law to take effect in 2004 because of the pending court case.

During this year's gubernatorial campaign, Lingle criticized both measures in remarks to the American Association of Retired Persons, which lobbied for the legislation. "They will not help you now," she said of the programs.

Lingle suggested instead that the state negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and approach health maintenance organizations about buying drugs on behalf of the uninsured, for sale at negotiated rates by big-box retailers such as Costco and Wal-Mart. Takumi contends that such an HMO program would violate federal law, while relying on discount outlets would "put Longs Drugs and the mom-and-pop drugstores out of business."


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Colleges should protect
foreign students’ privacy


THE ISSUE

The FBI is asking colleges and universities for personal information about foreign students and faculty.


COMPUTERIZED tracking of foreign students in the United States was begun earlier this year by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but the FBI wants more. The bureau is asking colleges and universities for personal information about all foreign students and faculty. Before responding to the request, education officials should pause about whether to unduly invade the privacy of students and teachers.

The government should keep track of foreign students in the United States, and those who violate the requirements of their visas should be required to conform to those terms or face deportation. Law enforcement agencies would be overstepping their authority in coercing education officials to reveal private information about all foreign students.

The FBI has sent letters to schools asking for names, addresses, phone numbers, citizenship information, places and dates of birth and "any foreign contact information" about foreign students and teachers, according to a sample letter obtained by the Washington Post. The USA Patriot Act, enacted after last year's terrorist attacks, limits government access to student records, which is why the FBI letters are in the form of a request.

The INS is allowed access to personal student information. However, any move by a law enforcement agency to obtain college records must be accompanied by a court order tailored to a terrorism investigation. The American Association of American College Registration and Admissions Officers has advised its members that nonconsensual release of private student information could subject them to lawsuits.

Congress approved a computerized system of tracking foreign students six years ago. Because of various delays, the INS is only now building the database. A review of immigration records a year ago showed that 3,761 of the nation's half-million foreign students were from terrorist-supporting countries. Two of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists were foreign students who had violated the terms of their visas. That alone should not trigger a broad investigation of all foreign students.



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Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791; fbridgewater@starbulletin.com
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768; mrovner@starbulletin.com
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762; lyoungoda@starbulletin.com

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748; mpoole@starbulletin.com
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533; jflanagan@starbulletin.com

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