The State’s coverage of medicaid waste

Gina Smith of The State newspaper wrote an excellant article on the Medicaid drug provisos:

The State: Milking South Carolina? Legislators seek change By GINA SMITH – Drug dollars for lawmakers

South Carolina’s Medicaid agency paid $24 million in taxpayers’ money last year to provide three mental health drugs to the state’s poorest residents.

Some research says the popular class of drugs, called atypical antipsychotics, are over-prescribed, can have dangerous side effects and, for some patients, are no better than some cheaper, alternative drugs and treatments.

State lawmakers, dozens of whom have accepted more than $100,000 in campaign cash from the makers of the drugs in the last few years, have inserted in the state budget a rule that makes it easier for doctors to prescribe the drugs.

But that could be about to change.

Some lawmakers are backing a measure that would make it more likely physicians will prescribe cheaper alternative drugs or generics. The Senate approved the measure Thursday.

“There are other drugs that doctors should consider prescribing,” said Republican state Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson pharmacist. “We’ve got three (drug) manufacturers milking South Carolina, making lots of money off three drugs. It needs to end. We have to be responsible to the taxpayers who are funding Medicaid.”

Mental health advocates are fighting back, saying the drugs – used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and other mental health conditions – are improving the lives of poor patients. They say doctors need the flexibility to prescribe whichever drug works best for their patients and should not have their hands tied by government bureaucracy.

“You can have two people both diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a drug works for one and not for the other,” said Bill Lindsey, executive director of the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an advocacy group for those with mental illnesses.

It is up to the state Senate and House to decide what to do as legislators prepare the state budget for the year that begins July 1.

That budget is expected to include about $700 million in cuts to the state’s budget. Within that budget, most attention this year has been focused on health care spending, the fastest-growing part of the state budget. That spending has grown so fast the state’s Medicaid agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, is projecting a deficit of $255 million for this year. read on