Up in Montana, Schweitzer Takes Aim at the High Cost of Prescription Drugs

Up in Montana, Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer is working on a plan that would let every Montanan get discounted medicine through Medicaid. Via the Billings Gazette:

It's the latest idea from Schweitzer to either import cheaper name-brand prescriptions or to otherwise bypass what he sees as exorbitant prices charged by "drug cartels." Previous plans have been shot down by the federal government as either illegal or impracticable.

Schweitzer, who has been critical of the health care overhaul passed by his fellow Democrats in Washington D.C., said he is drafting a federal request to let any Montanan voluntarily sign up for a special Medicaid prescription drug program.

He said Tuesday his program would let those people buy the drugs at the cheaper rate the state pays through prices negotiated by Medicaid. He will ask the federal government for an official Medicaid state plan amendment in a few weeks that he believes will cost the government nothing because it will just be passing along the discounted drugs it gets.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it cannot comment until it receives a formal Medicaid state plan amendment request.

"These things often change forms more than once before finally coming to us," said agency spokeswoman Mary Kahn.

The governor made the comments Thursday in a meeting with a maker of generic drugs, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, about ways that company could help the state use more of the cheaper medicine in favor of expensive brand-name alternatives.

The company told Schweitzer that Montana ranks well by using 71 percent generics in its state-run programs, but it pointed out Montana ranks behind leader Massachusetts, which uses 77 percent generics.

But Schweitzer's bigger plan is to put the spotlight on the big money the pharmaceutical industry makes by charging Americans more for its products. He said Congress is partly too blame, and he aims to point it out by requesting that every Montanan be allowed to pay the same price Medicaid does for medicine.

"They can't turn me down or they will look like they are bought and paid for by the drug lords," Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer has previously been shot down with plans to get federal approval to bring in cheaper drugs from Canada and to buy cheaper medicine given to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brian Schweitzer was elected governor of Montana in 2004. In 2008, he gave a highly regarded speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. In his first term in office, he received high marks for delivering on his priorities outlined on inauguration day: incentives for bio-fuel and wind-energy production; an historic increase in public education spending along with a balanced budget and no new taxes; stronger protection of public lands for hunting, fishing and camping, and a purchasing-pool for small businesses who want to buy health insurance for workers but cannot afford it.

Under Schweitzer, Montana implemented its renewable portfolio standard in April of 2005. The standard requires all public utilities to obtain at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2015.



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