Prescription drug
law gets added changes

A House bill clarifies eligibility
for the drug discount program

House lawmakers began tweaking yesterday the state's 2002 law that aims to bring down the cost of prescription drugs for senior citizens, the working poor and others who have trouble paying for medicine.

The House committees on Housing and Consumer Protection & Commerce advanced a bill making changes to the 2002 Hawaii Rx act to address some legal concerns. It now goes to the House Finance Committee.

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Lawmakers agreed to work with the Lingle administration on additional changes as the bill progresses.

Gov. Linda Lingle has indicated support for the measure but has asked lawmakers to ensure that it targets residents who can least afford prescription drugs.

The proposed changes are patterned after Maine's pioneering program, Maine Rx, which lawmakers there revised after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May gave the state only a qualified endorsement of its original plan, which allowed discounts for all Maine residents.

The new measure, Maine Rx Plus, was signed into law in June by Gov. John Baldacci.

Like Maine's law, Hawaii's program allows the state to use its buying power to force drug companies to offer bulk discounts on prescription drugs.

Program participants would be able to buy prescription drugs at the same lower costs paid by the state Medicaid program. The state also would be authorized to seek further discounts by entering into rebate agreements with drug manufacturers.

The House measure taken up yesterday proposes to add new definitions of which drugs are covered, which retail pharmacies can participate and who would qualify. It also would require the state Department of Human Services to conduct ongoing assessments of the program's quality assurance activities.

Though most of the testimony was in support of the bill, some supporters also asked House lawmakers to include additional language that already is contained in the companion version of the bill in the Senate.

The Senate proposal specifies that drug manufacturers who sell drugs through Medicaid must enter into a rebate agreement. It also discourages employers from dropping employer-sponsored drug benefits for enrollment in Hawaii Rx.

The Senate Committee on Consumer Protection and Housing is scheduled to hear that bill today.

Hawaii Rx, which would be renamed Hawaii Rx Plus, is scheduled to take effect July 1.

If each chamber passes different measures, differences would have to be worked out in conference committee later in the session.


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