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Councilman questions city's $1.6M prescription drug deal with Express Scripts

Drugs and MedicinesStephanie Rawlings-BlakeRobert W. Curran

A city councilman is questioning a $1.6 million deal for a St. Louis company to provide prescription drugs to city workers, arguing that the work should go to local pharmacies.

City Councilman Robert W. Curran said St. Louis-based Express Scripts, which holds a multimillion-dollar contract to provide prescription drug benefits to Baltimore City employees, has engaged in "deceptive practices," including overbilling the city for prescription drugs a decade ago.

"Express Scripts did shortchange us," Curran told the city's spending panel Wednesday morning during a pre-meeting in a City Hall conference room. "Sending drugs out to a mail house has a downside. Local jobs are lost."

Nevertheless, the city's Board of Estimates unanimously approved the contract extension, but officials said they were planning an audit of the firm's work. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who controls the board, said Curran made an "excellent point about local jobs."

"This is about making sure we can provide top-quality health care," she said. "If there's a way to do that and at the same time we're providing the opportunity for local jobs, I'm interested in seeing that proposal. ... I hope the local pharmacies put together a competitive proposal."

In 2006, Express Scripts agreed to return $240,367 to Baltimore after an audit found irregularities in the price the company set for certain drugs. A city audit of the company in 2005 found that the city might have been overbilled $300,000 to $700,000, though the company disagreed with those findings.

At the time, Curran questioned why the payment covered only one year, 2004, when the company has held the contract for years.

Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused Express Scripts in 2004 of inflating the cost of prescription drugs, a claim the company denied. In 2008, the company agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle a dispute with 29 states, including Vermont, which alleged that it engaged in "deceptive practices."

Express Scripts is the exclusive provider of prescription drug benefits to Baltimore; the contract includes more than 64,000 active employees, retirees and their dependents — making it one of the city's larger recurring contracts.

The $1.6 million deal approved Wednesday extends the company's contract through the end of 2015.

In a statement, the company said it was "proud to serve the city and the members of its plan. As part of the service we provide, we ensure members have broad access to a cost-competitive network of convenient pharmacies, as well as the option of savings, convenience and safety through our home delivery pharmacy."

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Drugs and MedicinesStephanie Rawlings-BlakeRobert W. Curran
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