Gov backs
cheap-drug law

Lingle does not specify
how she would fix a statute
she once dismissed

Gov. Linda Lingle is working to bulletproof a Democrat-sponsored law to provide low-cost prescription drugs for about 228,000 Hawaii residents, a measure she once dismissed as a "feel-good bill."

Hawaii's law is patterned after Maine's drug law, which forces drug manufacturers to negotiate with the state for lower prices.

"We are currently meeting ... to examine certain amendments that we will offer to this bill to address any legal challenges that Maine has encountered," Lingle told the Hawaii Healthcare Association yesterday.

Maine's law withstood a U.S. Supreme Court challenge and was changed to fit within the court guidelines, said Gregory Marchildon, AARP state director.

Marchildon suggested that Hawaii change its law to include an income cap so the program would be available only for consumers who fell within certain income guidelines.

The Hawaii law was passed in 2002 and is scheduled to take effect in July.

Lingle declined to say how she would amend the law, except to say she wanted to "make it more effective."

"We felt in its current form there were some problems," Lingle said. "We want to provide prescription drugs for people who can't afford them."

During her campaign a year ago, Lingle dismissed the Hawaii RX prescription bill as a "feel-good bill" that because of legal challenges would have little impact for consumers.

The Republican governor's endorsement of the Hawaii RX plan was welcomed by Marchildon.

"I am thrilled to hear that the administration is taking a close look and that they really want to make it work. This is great news," Marchildon said.

Sen. Rosalyn Baker, Health Committee chairwoman, also welcomed Lingle's support. "It would be a very positive move. ... On the surface, at least, it looks like we are on the same page.

"It would be terrific. Hopefully, we will be able to get this implemented," said Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena).

Marchildon estimates that by buying in bulk, the program could cut drug prices between 10 percent and 60 percent.

The income guidelines under consideration, Marchildon said, would be 350 percent of the poverty guideline, or about $34,500 for a single person and $76,000 for a family of four.

"What is exciting about the proposal is that it would make the pharmaceutical companies compete, based on price," Marchildon said.

Last year, candidate Lingle appeared before an AARP forum and urged that the state allow Hawaii Medical Service Association and Kaiser Permanente to buy drugs at lower cost for those without drug coverage. She also suggested hiring a national company to negotiate lower drug prices or allow big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Costco to negotiate lower drug prices.

Her Democratic opponent, former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, dismissed the suggestions, saying Lingle was misleading seniors.

The sponsor of the Hawaii RX plan, Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) said last year that after the Supreme Court ruled, Hawaii would be able to adjust its plan to meet objections, which is what the Lingle administration now appears to be doing.


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