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Partisan politics places Ohioans in harm's way



Published: Tue, September 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



How many testimonials from Ohioans on fixed income will it take for the Republican controlled state legislature to realize that prescription medicines are a necessity for many, not a luxury?

Why won't the GOP leadership in the House and Senate set politics aside and let bills sponsored by state Sen. Robert F. Hagan, D-Youngstown, and state Rep. Dale Miller, D-Cleveland, have committee hearings and full-blown floor debates?

How much higher will the price of life-sustaining prescription drugs have to go before someone in state government says, "enough"?

These are some of the questions that come to mind as we once again hear the tales of woe from Mahoning Valley residents who are among the 2.2 million Ohioans without drug coverage.

Consider the case of Myrna Loy Smith, a 63-year-old retired surgical technologist, whose $745 monthly Social Security check is her sole source of income. Ms. Smith told a campaign meeting last week of the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs that she spends $200 a month out-of-pocket for blood pressure, pain, anti-inflammatory and anti-osteoporosis medications.

"It's kind of hard because every time you pass a different store, the medicine is a different price," she said. But even though such a large proportion of her monthly income is spent on drugs, Ms. Smith conceded, "I can still eat."

Those four words strike at the heart of the issue. More and more Ohioans are being forced to choose between their health and their other needs for daily living, such as food, or are joining the ranks of the "skippers."

Skipping doses

Skippers are individuals who skip doses of prescription medicine to make supplies last longer. But as any doctor will tell you, not taking medicine in the manner prescribed diminishes the effectiveness of the drug.

That's why the coalition is conducting a series of statewide meetings. It hopes to rally the public behind the Hagan-Miller legislation, which would give the state the authority to negotiate with drug companies for high-volume discounts and pass the savings on to Ohioans who do not have health insurance or are under insured.

Participants would be given prescription drug cards that would provide 40 percent to 60 percent discounts.

The beauty of the plan, as we have noted in the past, is that the administrative costs would be paid from the negotiated rebates. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services would have the authority to negotiate rebates from the drug companies and pass the discounts to retailers.

Because of the inaction by the GOP leadership in the General Assembly, the coalition has decided to give the voters of Ohio an opportunity to be heard. A statewide issue has been proposed for next year, but the petitions which would get the issue on the ballot cannot be circulated until Attorney General Betty Montgomery approves the petition language.

Montgomery, who is running for state auditor in the November election, said last week that the high cost of prescription medicine is a priority for her office and that she and other state attorneys general are working to take action against drug companies that charge artificially high prices.

Given her commitment to ending such abuse, we would urge Montgomery to approve the petition language so the people of Ohio can have say in this life-and-death issue.




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