Staff and Wire report
HELENA — Gov. Brian Schweitzer, cooking up a new plan to get cheaper prescription drugs for state residents, said he wants to let every Montanan get discounted medicine through Medicaid.
“I’m going to save the residents of Montana about 400 million dollars,” Schweitzer said in an interview with the Havre Daily News Tuesday. “And that’s 400 million dollars that doesn’t go to some pharmaceutical drug lord on the East Coast or in Europe or wherever the heck they come from.
“And its 400 million that stays in … our communities,” he added.
He said he already had talked to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about his proposal during her visit to Montana.
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.
Schweitzer told the Havre Daily News his plan also would lower the cost of health insurance, by passing savings on to the insurance companies.
“So I am not done,” he said. “I’m squeezing every little bit of this thing. We’re going to make health care in Montana more efficient, and that’s what we need to do.
“And if they can’t get it done in Washington, we’ll do it here,” he added.
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 spoke about his plan Thursday in a meeting with a maker of generic drugs, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, about ways that the 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.
However 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 to 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.