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Published: Friday, 12/1/2006

Expanded Ohio drug plan advances

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS -The Ohio Senate yesterday voted overwhelmingly to combine two prescription drug discount programs and expand the number of citizens who would be eligible for its benefits.

Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana), one of just two negative votes, argued that the program would be so generous that a rank-and-file lawmaker with a stay-at-home spouse and two children would be eligible based on his legislative salary.

The bill, which goes to the House, would combine Gov. Bob Taft's Golden Buckeye Card drug discount program with Ohio's Best Rx program enacted three years ago.

The Best Rx was the initial result of negotiations between labor and drug manufacturers as pressure mounted for the state to provide some relief for escalating drug costs.

The newly merged program would serve those over the age of 60 and the disabled and would raise the income eligibility threshold for other Ohioans from 250 to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

That means an eligible individual could be paid as much as $29,400 and an eligible family of four could be paid nearly $60,000 a year. That could add an estimated 105,000 more Ohioans to the program.

"The [Best Rx] program, I think, has been successful," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Robert Spada (R., North Royalton). "I think it should be more successful. ...We want the program to be more comprehensive, and we want to cover more individuals."

Unlike the Medicaid program for the poor and the new federal Medicare Part D program for seniors, the two competing state programs leverage discounts for consumers at the cash register rather than offer taxpayer-funded, subsidized prescriptions.

The Best Rx program serves fewer than 80,000 lower-income people over age 60. The number of participants is far lower than the 1.2 million expected to be in the program when it was approved in December, 2003.

The prescription drug component of the broader Golden Buckeye Card discount program serves roughly 140,000 people who are over 60 or disabled. In some cases, people are in both programs, taking advantage of whichever offers the deepest discount on a particular drug.

"I think this is a great example of failure being rewarded with more government failure," said Sen. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon). "This program is a fairly dismal failure. Rather than let a failing program die, we give it more government."

Best Rx, which piggybacks onto bulk discounts negotiated by the state's public pension systems, has generated average savings of 33 percent, according to Mr. Spada. The program is administered through a $1 administrative fee paid by consumers and 5 percent of the rebates offered by drug manufacturers.

The Golden Buckeye Card, which encourages pharmacies and retailers to voluntarily offer discounts, has provided more moderate savings of 24 percent.

The discount drug component of that program would end on July 1.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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