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Costly Delay in Annapolis


Every week a General Assembly panel delays approval of a prescription drug rebate program, it costs the state $200,000. But a majority on this committee has sided with the pharmaceutical manufacturers and is only too glad to postpone implementation. The ultimate losers will be the legislators' own constituents, who once again end up paying for the lawmakers' intransigence.

Members of the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee don't seem to care. As long as the drug manufacturers' lobbyists are content, so are the legislators. That's the impression left after the panel ignored the testimony of an assistant attorney general and the state health secretary and swallowed the litany of the drug manufacturers opposed to this rebate plan.

The idea is not new. Federal law requires pharmaceutical companies to give Washington a rebate of 5 percent of the cost of all prescription drugs purchased by patients covered by federal Medicaid programs. It amounts to a volume discount from the manufacturer. All the Schaefer administration wants is to extend the rebate to two medical assistance programs funded entirely by the state.

But the manufacturers' lobbyists claim the move is illegal, that it cannot be done through regulation. An assistant attorney general testified this wasn't so, that the state's top legal officer had found the rule legal. The health secretary even agreed to delay enforcement until a more detailed legal opinion was issued by the attorney general. None of this sufficed for legislators, who insisted on postponing a vote until Aug. 18 -- if a quorum of the committee can be found on that date.

Meanwhile, the state loses $200,000 every week the regulation isn't in place. This means the health secretary must reduce other medical programs for the needy to make up the difference. The drug manufacturers are happy, though.

So the next time state legislators talk about the need to eliminate waste and abuse in government, remember this costly delaying tactic by this committee. The Maryland General Assembly has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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