Part of the bill involves the state's having the power to negotiate lower drug prices for uninsured people.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Several health and elderly advocacy groups are joining organized labor in trying to secure passage of a bill that would extend prescription-drug benefits to the poor and uninsured.
"This is no longer just the Ohio AFL-CIO," Bill Burga, the Ohio AFL-CIO president, said Tuesday as backers announced the formation of the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs.
The coalition is made up of groups ranging from the AFL-CIO, which represents more than 800,000 union members in Ohio, to Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio, American Association of Retired Persons Ohio Chapter, the Ohio Nurses Association and the Ohio Public Interest Research Group.
The coalition will push for action on a proposal originally put forth by the Ohio AFL-CIO.
What's needed: "From our view, a prescription-drug program has to do a couple of things. It has to be available to everyone who needs prescription drug coverage and it needs to get at the root of the problem, which is price-gouging by the prescription drug companies," said Bryan Clark, legislative advocate for Ohio PIRG, a nonprofit policy group. "This bill achieves both ends."
Under the labor-backed bill, introduced in the Senate by state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, and in the House by state Rep. Dale Miller, D-Cleveland, the state would have the power to negotiate reduced drug prices for the uninsured or underinsured.
Hagan's bill is pending in the Senate Health, Human Services and Aging Committee, while Miller's bill is pending in the House Health and Family Services Committee.
"When you have prescription drug costs rising about 15 [percent] to 20 percent every year, you know you have a problem," said Hagan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate health committee.
Looking ahead: The coalition may have a tough road ahead.
A rival bill that would extend prescription drug benefits to senior citizens through the Golden Buckeye Card program already has passed the Ohio House and is pending in the Senate.
That bill, House Bill 4 sponsored by state Rep. John P. Hagan, a Stark County Republican, also has the backing of Gov. Bob Taft's administration. John Hagan is not related to Youngstown's Hagan.
"We don't oppose House Bill 4," Burga said. "We just don't think it goes far enough."
If enacted, John Hagan's bill would allow senior citizens to present a discount card at prescription purchase. Under his bill, the state Department of Aging would have the authority to contract with a third party to offer the discount card through the Golden Buckeye Card program.
The bill passed the House in June and is pending in the Senate Health, Human Services and Aging Committee.
House Speaker Larry Householder said he'd like to see John Hagan's bill passed in the Senate.