Lawmakers OK bill
to reduce drug costs

Hawaii Rx Plus clients would
get prescriptions at Medicaid prices

Stanley Samson spends more than $700 a month for prescription drugs and must regularly skip daily doses of his medications to make them last longer.

Legislature 2004
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State Legislature: Bills
& Hawaii Revised Statutes

So Samson, who suffers from back and knee problems, diabetes, a weak heart and asthma, went to the state Capitol yesterday to see lawmakers overwhelmingly approve legislation intended to lower drug prices.

"You elect these officials, and you want to know which officials really get it for you. And it was the vast majority of them that get it," said Samson, 53.

House lawmakers unanimously approved a program, known as Hawaii Rx Plus, that allows the state to use its buying power to force drug companies to offer bulk discounts on prescription medication. In the Senate, only Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Kalama Valley) voted against the bill. Slom said high state taxes were to blame for the high cost of medicine and said the proposal amounts to price-fixing.

Hawaii lawmakers approved Hawaii Rx in 2002 based on Maine's original program, but implementation was delayed pending a court challenge to the Maine program. The bills (HB 2005, SB 3237) approved yesterday make improvements to the program, changes its name to Hawaii Rx Plus and addresses some of the legal challenges to Maine's Rx program.

Under the revised Hawaii Rx Plus program, enrollees who make $36,155 a year or less (3.5 times the federal poverty level for individuals in Hawaii) would be able to buy prescription drugs at Medicaid prices through participating pharmacies beginning July 1. By the following year, enrollees would be eligible for additional discounts off Medicaid prices based on state-negotiated rebates from drug manufacturers.

Savings would range from 15 percent to 60 percent off retail prices, depending on whether the medications are brand-name or generic, said Senate Consumer Protection Chairman Ron Menor (D, Mililani).

Also on hand yesterday at the Capitol was 72-year-old Ruby Silva, who pays more than $650 a month for prescription drugs. Most of them are for her husband Gilbert, 73, who has congestive heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Both are retired and on a fixed income.

"When you're in the struggle, and you're busy with the fight, the emotions don't come to the front. But when I realize now that my $650 a month can be less, it affects me a lot and so I'm really happy," said Silva, who cried after the measure passed the House.

Gov. Linda Lingle, who had dismissed the Hawaii Rx as a "feel-good bill" during her election campaign, came out in favor of the program last year.

Star-Bulletin reporter Nelson Daranciang and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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