The State: generic drugs in the budget

The State: Senate plan touts generic drug use, Health care dominates budget debate By JOHN O’CONNOR (joconnor@thestate.com) Patients in a state-run health care program for the poor and disabled could have to choose lower-cost mental health, cancer and HIV/AIDS prescriptions, according to a change in the Senate’s proposed state budget adopted Wednesday.
But the Senate voted down a proposal to make state employees pay a greater share of their rising health-insurance premiums. Employees will pay about $6 more a month next year for that insurance. The rejected plan almost would have doubled that increase.
Health care costs dominated the second day of floor debate on the Senate’s $5.8 billion spending plan for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1.
Medicaid patients who already use name-brand drugs would not have to switch from those medications. However, doctors would need to try the lowest-cost drugs – typically generics – for new patients as long as those low-cost drugs are as effective as more expensive drugs.
The change will save the state about $991,000 a year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Some lawmakers said the state should mandate everyone use the least expensive drug in order to save more money.
The bill would require the least expensive option, which could mean a generic or a name-brand drug whose maker offers a rebate or discount.
State Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, one of three pharmacists in the General Assembly, said he supported requiring Medicaid recipients to use the least expensive drug. Bryant brought a name-brand indigestion drug and the generic equivalent to the Senate well. The generic, he noted, actually was stamped with the more expensive drug’s name.
But advocates said that no generics exist for some mental health, cancer and HIV/AIDS drugs. Other times, they said, when generics exist, they are not as effective.
Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Jeff Stensland said the agency does not support requiring prescription changes if they might impact a patient’s health. “We wouldn’t want to do anything that would disrupt what they are on now.”
But state Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, disagreed.
Drug companies have been pushing more expensive drugs, he said, often urging their use to treat illnesses for which the drugs were not designed. Some of those drug companies also have defrauded the state and hurt its citizens, he said.
“We’ve got to apply a tourniquet to the bleeding of this state,” Thomas said, urging lawmakers to require the use of generic drugs, a proposal they rejected.
Lawmakers also rejected a proposal to require state employees to pay more of their health insurance costs.
State Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, said state employees should pay half the higher cost to the state for health insurance in the next fiscal year, or about $11 a month more. But senators — mindful that some state employees have not received a pay raise in four years — rejected Ryberg’s proposal, 24-16.
The Senate will continue its debate of the budget proposal today.
Reach O’Connor at (803) 771-8358.
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