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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Action sought on prescription drug bill

COEUR d’ALENE – A proposal to reduce the costs of many prescriptions for lower-income people is stuck in the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee and needs help from North Idahoans, the former director of the Panhandle Health District told Kootenai County Democrats on Friday.

“This is a worthy piece of legislation,” Larry Belmont told about 30 people gathered for a Democratic Club luncheon. “It will help a lot of people stay healthier.”

The legislation is called Affordable Rx Idaho and was discussed in the Senate committee Thursday, then held for more discussion on Monday, committee secretary Joy Dombrowski said.

It’s sponsored by the AARP and would offer discounts of up to 60 percent on the most widely used prescriptions to people of any age who live within 250 percent of the poverty level. Only people with health insurance that offers prescription coverage couldn’t participate.

Belmont’s explanation of the proposal Friday unleashed a wave of anger at the AARP for its support of President Bush’s prescription drug plan for Medicare.

“It seems disingenuous to me that the AARP would push this when they pushed that,” said Ron Johnson, a club member.

Belmont didn’t disguise his irritation at the AARP over the Medicare plan, but told Johnson Affordable Rx Idaho is different.

“This helps make up for that blunder,” he said.

With 253,000 people living in Idaho without health insurance and 77 percent of those people working, the state needs a plan like Rx Idaho, Belmont said. Forty states already offer some sort of break on prescriptions for their lower-income residents, including Washington, Oregon and Montana. In the West, Idaho and Utah don’t, he said.

Rx Idaho needs $450,000 from the state to get started. That money would hire eight people to run the program throughout the state. After its first year, Rx Idaho should be self-sustaining, Belmont said.

Here’s how it would work:

The state, through its Medicaid program, would take bids from pharmaceutical companies for discounted contracts. Eligible people ranging from a single person with an annual income up to $23,270 to a family of four with an income under $47,125 would receive cards explaining their discount – from 15 percent to 60 percent depending on income.

Cardholders would pay $15 a year to belong to the program and $2.50 per discounted prescription on top of their cost for the prescription. The program would use that money plus rebates pharmaceutical companies pay to the state for granting them a contract to pay for Rx Idaho after its start-up year.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association has come out against the proposal. Belmont said Rx Idaho is based on a plan that’s working now in Maine.

“The bill is in trouble in the Health and Welfare Committee,” he said. “Tell (committee chairman) Sen. Dick Compton it’s appropriate to have a hearing on this one. Get it out of committee.”

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