Isle and Maine officials
trade drug law info

AUGUSTA, Maine >> Lawmakers from Hawaii and Maine said they hope to serve as models for the states in between as they traded information on their pioneering laws to make low-cost prescription drugs available to more people.

Hawaii state Sen. Ron Menor and Rep. Roy Takumi are spending three days in Augusta to learn more about Maine's first-in-the-nation law to use the state's buying power to make drugs available to 275,000 people without prescription drug coverage.

Gov. John Baldacci assured the Hawaii delegation yesterday that Maine's revised Rx-Plus law has been thoroughly analyzed for legal soundness and "will stand the test."

Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) said he hopes that the states at the nation's eastern and western extremities would set the pace for the rest of the country and ultimately "squeeze" Congress into action.

"If we waiting for Washington (to act), the citizens of our states would be waiting for a long time," added Maine state Sen. Michael Brennan. "If we now start working our way toward the middle, we'll capture the hearts and minds of the people," said the Portland Democrat.

Takumi and Menor helped to write a law that will cover 170,000 Hawaii residents after it takes effect in July. The two lawmakers said the main roadblock to their state's law now is a lack of funding.

Maine's groundbreaking prescription drug law faced a challenge in federal court by a pharmaceutical drug manufacturers group after the law was enacted in 2000. In May the U.S. Supreme Court said drug makers did not adequately show why Maine's plan should be blocked.

Since then the Maine Legislature has revised the program and renamed it Maine Rx-Plus. The law authorizes the state to seek discounts by entering into rebate agreements with drug manufacturers.

Menor said the meetings shed light on ways Hawaii can avoid some of the legal tangles Maine encountered in implementing its law. If implemented, the changes in Hawaii could generate more cost savings for that state's program.

"We're most grateful for Maine's leadership on prescription drugs," said Menor (D, Mililani).

After their 18-hour flight to Maine, the Hawaii lawmakers were to attend meetings with legislators from both parties who were closely involved with Rx-Plus bill's passage, and Baldacci, a Democrat. Briefings were also scheduled with Attorney General Steven Rowe and his deputies who were involved in the Maine Rx Supreme Court case.

AARP, which arranged the fact-finding trip, was also involved. Maine AARP Director Jud Dolphin praised Maine for its leadership on prescription drugs as well as health care. Maine lawmakers also passed a law this spring that is designed to create a universal health care system by 2009.

"From where the sun rises to where it sets," said Dolphin, "people are wanting affordable prescription drugs."


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