HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Tuesday, March 8th, 2005

PRESCRIPTION DRUG & HOSPITAL DISCLOSURE BILLS ANNOUNCED

  • “OuRx Bill of Rights” Addresses Rising Drug Prices
  • Hospital Cost and Quality Data Would Be Made Public

Last week, state legislators and consumer advocate organizations unveiled a series of bills of interest to health care consumers, to address both the cost and quality of prescription drugs, and of hospital care.

PRESCRIPTION DRUG COSTS

On Wednesday, March 2nd, the OURx Bill of Rights Coalition, representing seniors, communities of color, consumers and working people, announced a package of bills to help Californians access safe, effective and affordable prescription drugs in a fair and transparent marketplace.

Measures supported by the OURx Bill of Rights Coalition fall under four basic principles, and are listed below, as well as on the Health Access website in a fact sheet format at: http://www.health-access.org/docs/OURx%20Bill%20of%20Rights%2003.01.05.doc

Affordable Drug Prices: State and federal governments should explore all possible avenues to make prescription drugs more affordable for California consumers and taxpayers.

  • AB 75 (Frommer, Chan) would establish a discount program for low-income Californians using the leverage provided by the state Medi-Cal program.
  • AB 76 (Frommer, Chan) would establish a new Office of Pharmaceutical Purchasing that would purchase prescription drugs on behalf of several state agencies.
  • AB 95 (Koretz) requires drug manufacturers to provide a rebate to the State for drug marketing costs for life-threatening medications purchased by the State.
  • AB 306 (Baca) would establish a prescription drug purchasing pool to include employers and uninsured residents of California.
  • The “Cheaper Prescription Drugs for California Act (Cal Rx Plus)” ballot initiative, sponsored by Health Access California, would establish a discount program for low and middle-income Californians, and Californians with high drug costs, using the purchasing power of the state and particularly its Medi-Cal program.

Better Consumer Information: All Californians need access to better information to make more informed choices about their own prescription drugs.

  • AB 71 (Frommer, Chan) would compile data about adverse drug reactions reported by consumers.
  • AB 72 (Frommer, Chan) would require drug makers to provide data about the safety and effectiveness of drugs marketed in California.
  • AB 73 (Frommer, Chan) would provide consumers with information about pharmacies outside the U.S. that meet state safety standards and sell medications at significantly reduced prices.
  • AB 74 (Gordon) would establish a hotline for consumers to access information about prescription drug discount programs available in California.
  • SB 329 (Cedillo) would establish a Prescription Drug Safety and Effectiveness Commission to create a website about the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs in California.

Fair Marketing and Pricing: Marketing and pricing practices within the prescription drug market should be fair and should not disadvantage the consumer.

  • SB 401 (Ortiz) would prohibit drug companies from including advertisements in the written materials a patient receives with a prescription.
  • SB 163 (Scott) would require a pharmaceutical company entering into a contract with the State to disclose the percentage of its operating budget that is spent on marketing.

Accountable Industry Practices: The pharmaceutical industry should be transparent and accountable to consumers with patient health and safety as its primary goal.

  • AB 78 (Pavley) calls for better standards for drug industry middlemen known as “Pharmacy Benefit Managers.”
  • AB 1359 (Chan) would protect seniors by establishing standards for prescription drug plans offered in California as part of the federal Medicare reform legislation.

Members of the OURx Bill of Rights Coalition Steering Committee include: AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA), California Labor Federation, CalPIRG, Congress of California Seniors, Consumers Union, Greenlining Institute, Health Access California, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, Older Women’s League, and the Senior Action Network. These groups were active last year in pushing a series of bills which passed the legislature and were placed on the Governor’s desk, although most were vetoed. The groups have expressed their renewed commitment to winning these reforms in California.

Governor’s Counter-Proposal: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has developed a proposal to create a drug discount card for low-income, uninsured Californians – SB 19 (Ortiz, Poochigian). Health Access California has a “oppose unless amended” position, seeking changes to ensure meaningful and lasting discounts for a broader population. PhRMA, the lobbying firm for the prescription drug companies, has introduced an identical version of SB19 as a ballot initiative, as a counter-proposal to other ballot measures submitted. The Legislative Analyst’s Office put forward their independent analysis, “Evaluating the Administration’s California Rx Proposal,” which is available at: http://www.lao.ca.gov/2005/california_rx/california_rx_021005.htm

A short side-by-side comparison of some of the legislation and ballot measures around drug discount cards are available at the Health Access website, at: http://www.health-access.org/docs/Drug%20Discount%20Cards%20in%20California.doc

More information about all these prescription drug bills will be forthcoming, by E-mail and on the Health Access website.

HOSPITAL COST AND QUALITY

Consumer groups joined with Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Glendale) on Thursday, March 3rd, to announce two bills to provide greater disclosure of hospital costs and quality. Both bills are supported by Health Access California.

Chargemasters: AB1045 (Frommer) would require public disclosure of the charges for the 25 most common hospital inpatient procedures (labor and delivery, cardiac bypass, etc) and the 25 most common outpatient procedures (minor surgery, etc). Newspaper reporters have already conducted interesting investigations showing the wide variation of charges for the same services between hospitals, using data disclosed by previous legislation two year ago. Health Access also supports a similar but more limited measure, SB917 by Senator Jackie Speier, if amended to include both inpatient and outpatient procedures.

Report Card: AB1046 (Frommer) would create a report card on hospital quality, similar to that already available on HMOs from the Department of Managed Health Care. This information would allow both individual consumers and health purchasers (including employers and health plans) to make better decisions about hospital care, and create additional incentives to improve care.

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

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