HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

LEGISLATORS, CONSUMER ADVOCATES CONTINUE FOCUS ON PHARMACEUTICALS

  • Cost, Quality & Access: New Push on Prescription Drug Prices, Safety
  • Actions Needed to Fill Medicare Part D Gaps in Coverage and Oversight
  • Action: Press Conference & Lobby Day April 18th; Start of Week of Legislative Hearings

High-profile prescription drug legislation will be considered in the next two weeks in the California legislature, to lower the cost of medicines, ensure their safety, and make sure that patients get the treatments they need.

Even after a year that included the start of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, major court decisions on Vioxx and other unsafe drugs, and a $80 million initiative campaign by the pharmaceutical lobby to prevent ballot reforms, this new burst of legislation indicates that these issues are not going away–in fact, the stakes and issues have been further clarified, and the time is ripe for action.

OURX COALITION: From the past three years, the OuRx Coalition—representing seniors, working people, consumers, communities of color, and California families—has worked on behalf of consumers’ drug needs, battling the drug company lobby PhRMA and others in the health industry. The coalition is advocating for over 10 pieces of legislation to ensure consumers have access to safe, effective, and affordable prescription drugs that are purchased in a fair and transparent marketplace.

Members of the OuRx Coalition Steering Committee include AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California Alliance for Retired Americans, California Labor Federation, CALPIRG, Congress of California Seniors, Consumers Union, Gray Panthers California, Greenlining Institute, Health Access California, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, Older Women’s League, and Senior Action Network.

HEARINGS: Consideration of these bills start in the April 18th hearing of the Assembly Health Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan. That hearing will start by considering a new version of a bill, AB2877(Frommer), to facilitate the reimportation of safe, affordable prescription drugs from other countries, and a new bill, AB2667(Baca), to place additional state oversight over Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.

Up on the 19th in Senate Health Committee, chaired by Senator Deborah Ortiz, SB1683 (Scott) will be heard to prevent future cases like Vioxx. In the next week, on the 25th in Assembly Health Committee, AB2170 (Chan) will be considered to create a report card for those having to choose Medicare Part D prescription drug plans in the state.

Also on that hearing on the 25th, AB2911 (Nunez/Perata) will be considered, as a new effort by legislative leadership to create a meaningful, enforceable prescription drug discount plan, for those without comprehensive prescription drug coverage. A similar bill, SB1702 (Perata/Nunez) will be up on the 26th in Senate Health Committee. Based a structure suggested by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office, these bills help create a framework for a legislative solution to prescription drug prices, coming after last year’s Proposition 78 & 79 campaigns.

ACTIONS: April 18th will also feature a press event and lobby day on prescription drug issues. Organizations interested in participating should contact Anthony Wright at 916-442-2308, or awright@health-access.org.

LETTERS NEEDED: Letters in support of these bills are needed ASAP, to the Assembly and Senate Health Committees, respectively. For a sample letter on any of these bills, contact Hanh Kim Quach, at 916-497-0923, or hquach@health-access.org.

IMMEDIATE ACTION: Medicare Part D, with its various problems and issues, requires both emergency and ongoing fixes. This includes both ongoing budget and legislative changes, as described below. It also includes continuing the emergency coverage that the Legislature and the Governor enacted through SB 1233 (Perata) to prevent the most vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities from going without life sustaining drugs. Right now, emergency coverage will expire at April 16th unless the Governor uses his authority under the bill to extend it further.

Advocates are hosting a CALL-IN DAY on Wednesday, APRIL 12th, to urge Governor Schwarzenegger to “extend emergency Part D coverage,” to ensure that the low-income seniors and people with disabilities continue to get needed medication. To call Governor Schwarzenegger, call 916-445-2841 (Press 2, then press 0).

Even if this emergency coverage is extended, advocate will be continuing to work to get a permanent solution for the “dual-eligibles,” who had their Medi-Cal coverage replaced by the more costly, less comprehensive coverage of the private Part D plans.

OuRx BILL LIST: BELOW is the full list of the consumer, senior, and health groups are supporting these reforms to address the cost, quality and access of prescription drugs, including the following bills:

1. Cost

Americans, especially those that are uninsured or are underinsured, continue to pay more for prescription drugs than anybody else in the world. These bills include a new version of the bill to facilitate the reimportation of safe, affordable drugs from other countries, and a new effort by Assembly and Senate leadership to design a legislative solution to allow California to directly negotiate for cheaper drugs for its residents.

  • AB75 (Frommer) would establish a prescription drug discount program to use the purchasing power of the state of California (through its Medi-Cal program) to negotiate for the best possible drug prices for the 8-10 million uninsured and underinsured Californians.
  • AB2911 (Nunez/Perata) * would also establish a prescription drug discount program.
  • SB1702 (Perata/Nunez) * would also establish a prescription drug discount program.
  • AB2877 (Frommer) * would establish a website to facilitate Californians purchasing safe and affordable prescription drugs from other countries.
  • SB163 (Scott) would require drug companies to tell the state how much of their budgets are spent on advertising versus on research.
  • SB452 (Alarcon) requires Medi-Cal contracts with drug manufacturers to be disclosed to chairs of relevant legislative committees.

2. Quality

With more coming out about Vioxx scandal and other issues, California has the opportunity to advance the cause of prescription drug safety, to make sure that consumer get the most appropriate, safest, and most effective medicines they need.

  • SB1683 (Scott) * would require drug companies to release the results of all of their clinical trials – good or bad – for every drug they sell in California.
  • AB71 (Chan/Frommer) would establish a clearinghouse for information about the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs that are advertised on television

3. Access

California needs to fill gaps in both coverage and oversight left by the Medicare Part D program. This includes both a budget effort to win protections for the state’s most vulnerable. And despite federal attempt to pre-empt state oversight, legislators are still interested in finding ways to provide consumer protections over growing problems with private drug plans.

  • Budget action (and/or legislation) to authorize Medi-Cal to continue to be a safety-net provider of prescription drug coverage for seniors and people with disabilities who are eligible for both Medicare and Medi-Cal.
  • AB2170 (Chan) * would create a consumer report card on Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.
  • AB2667 (Baca) * would allow the state to monitor and regulate prescription drug coverage plans in the same way it regulates health plans.
  • AJR 40 (Berg/Chan) calls on the federal government to make changes to the Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, including an extension of the deadline for seniors to sign up without penalty.

* indicates a new 2006 bill up in policy committee in April.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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