TALLAHASSEE -- Brand-name pharmaceutical companies easily defeated legislative efforts last year to make it easier to substitute cheaper generic drugs for some of their products. So why should they be worried about the coming session?
Byron Thames, a doctor who is chairman of the Florida Coalition for Patient Safety, has a succinct answer.
"The new speaker is not John Thrasher," he said.
Thrasher, a former general counsel for the Florida Medical Association, was speaker of the House last year when the bill failed to make it to the floor for a vote.
But Thrasher is gone, a victim of term limits, and Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, is the new House leader.
Although Feeney has not yet taken a position on the generic drug issue, one of his top lieutenants, House Republican Leader Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, is co-sponsoring the generic-substitution bill this year.
That could signal a change in attitude on the part of the House leadership.
It would be unusual for a member of the leadership team to be out front on an issue if the speaker were likely to be on the other side.
Kimberly Stone, a spokeswoman for Feeney, said the speaker will examine the economic and health effects of the legislation, and if both are positive, he would support it.
The bill gets its first test tomorrow in the House Health Regulation Committee.
Millions of dollars are at stake in this battle between the makers of the name-brand drugs and the generics.
Defenders of the current law, a so-called negative formulary that prohibits pharmacists from substituting generics for a list of 11 brand-name prescription drugs, say changing it would endanger the lives of patients.
But opponents of the restriction say financially strapped elders are forced to pay too much because they are denied the cheaper generics.
"We need to stop protecting the brand-name drugs and start protecting our senior citizens," said Rep. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon.
Argenziano, a co-sponsor of this year's bill, warned legislators to expect a flood of television ads by brand-name drug companies claiming that the generic drugs are risky.
Nonetheless, she appeared optimistic for the chances of the legislation.
"It really doesn't hurt at all to have the majority leader pushing the bill along," Argenziano said.
The bill would allow substitutions for five drugs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined have generic equivalents. …