Ritter signs executive order for preferred drug list
DENVER Gov. Bill Ritter signed an executive order Wednesday establishing a preferred drug list that he said will save the state money by using a multistate purchasing pool for prescription drugs.The governor rejected criticism from Republican lawmakers who said the governor bypassed them to avoid a debate that resulted in two previous vetoes by former Republican Gov. Bill Owens. Ritter said the issue has been extensively debated before and he wanted to get it done quickly.”The Legislature has passed this or some semblance of this, last year being the most recent example of that,” Ritter said.”We can do it by executive order and it’s really a process that has been vetted. We went this route because we could do it, No. 1, more quickly and it saves them a debate they have already had,” he said.Ritter said the state spends $96 million a year on prescription drugs for Medicaid. He estimated the state could save from 2 percent to 5 percent a year, a minimum of $1.6 million that could be spent on health care. He compared it to buying a 500-count bottle of aspirin instead of a bottle of 50 to save money.Supporters say the pool would help Colorado save money on drugs it buys for people covered by Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, and provide help to Coloradans who don’t qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford prescription drugs or health insurance.Medicaid patients, including the disabled, said they fear their health could suffer if the best drugs to treat their conditions weren’t on the list.Two years ago, Owens vetoed two bills that he said would have deprive patients of choices.Ritter said a panel would be set up to include doctors, pharmacists and interested groups to decide which medications are most effective. He said vulnerable populations, including the aged and disabled, would be protected.A.W. Schnellbacher, a spokesman for AARP which represents senior citizens, said the new program would help cut health care costs.”We feel this is a step in the right direction which will ensure Medicaid recipients get the most effective drug at a negotiated price rather than the best marketed drug at the highest price,” Schnellbacher said.Earlier Wednesday, the House approved a separate plan (Senate Bill 1) that would allow people who can’t afford health insurance to buy generic prescription drugs through the state.The program is aimed at people who can’t afford health insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. About 264,000 people could sign up in the first year, legislative analysts said.Under that plan, the state would negotiate for deals on generic drugs and then sell them to people who meet income restrictions at participating pharmacies. They would have to pay a membership fee of up to $20 a year and then pay the cost of the drug plus a dispensing fee, which hasn’t been determined.The program would be limited to people within 300 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s less than $28,000 as an individual or less than $61,000 for a family of four, said the sponsor, Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora.The bill faces a third reading in the House.
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