February 15, 2005 - posted at 1:33 p.m. CST-- updated 5:30 p.m.
Little Rock, AR - The House Democratic Caucus is endorsing a bill that passed the Public Health Committee on Tuesday and will move on to the house floor. HB1241 by Representative Dustin McDaniel (D) of Jonesboro would lower retail prescription drug prices in Arkansas. The bill operates by allowing the State Department of Human Services (DHS) to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices through rebates attributed to bulk sales.
"States are banding together," said McDaniel. "They're using the buying power of their citizenry so that they can create a Sam's Club for drugs."
McDaniel has crafted an RX plan that he says mirrors programs in 13 other states. Those eligible for the program include: residents of the state who are not otherwise enrolled in or covered by a prescription drug benefit or insurance plan, including medicaid and medicare. Qualified recipients must be 65 years or older, or have a family income equal to or less than 350% of the federal poverty level.
"This is not an insurance benefit. This is not an expansion of medicaid," added McDaniel.
The newly elected lawmaker from Region 8 estimates 400,000 uninsured Arkansans would be eligible for this assistance. To get involved, members must pay a $25 annual fee.
Critics of McDaniel's RX proposal are mostly represented by pharmaceutical companies, who fear this would cause unintended consequences for seniors.
"Only 17% of our seniors avail themselves of these discount cards. The confusion potential out there is real," said pharmaceutical representative Nick Thompson.
"There's some things we would like to see changed in it, but there's also a lot of good in it, so that is our position at this point," said Mark Johnson with the A.A.R.P.