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Rx Affordability: Task Confronts New Governor and Legislature

March 14, 2008

New York, NY - There's no question: The biggest task facing New York's new governor when David Paterson takes over Monday from Eliot Spitzer is the tight state budget. That may have consequences for legislation approved in the state Assembly designed to improve prescription drug affordability.

A new study by the American Association of Retired Persons found that prescription drug prices are a major problem for people. They're outpacing inflation at a rate of three to one.

The New York Assembly has agreed to a package of measures to tackle that problem, but the state Senate is a holdout. One of the measures would allow bulk buying of prescription drugs for Medicaid and other purposes.

Alan Lubin of New York State United Teachers would like to see the new governor work with the Senate to get that measure approved.

"For the consumer, it's important because it provides access to drugs at a much lower cost, and we have many people across the state who are making decisions about whether to take the a pill, or half a pill, or no pill, or pay the rent."

The Pharmacists Society of New York urges caution, saying they want to see more details on the plan. Lubin estimates bulk purchasing alone could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bill Ferris with AARP-New York says his group's latest survey shows drug prices still soaring.

"In 2007, brand name drugs increased about 7.4 percent. That's close to three times the rate of inflation. In fact, in the last six years, brand name drugs have increased by about 50 percent. We want the government to do something about this in the final state budget."

Ferris says a broad coalition of teachers, seniors, union members and everyday New Yorkers is asking lawmakers to consider a three-pronged approach to the prescription drug problem.

"The three measures are: creating a prescription drug discount card, authorizing the state to go out and bulk-purchase prescription drugs to save money, and having an education program for doctors on prescribing drugs."

Ferris says the education program is needed to offset the influence drug companies exert on doctors.

Michael Clifford/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - NY