Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Gubernatorial Candidates Vow to Lower Prescription Drug Prices

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Gubernatorial Candidates Vow to Lower Prescription Drug Prices

Article excerpt

All three gubernatorial candidates vowed Wednesday to lower prescription drug prices through bulk-purchasing arrangements.

Responding to written questions submitted by the Oklahoma Arthritis Network, the three men largely avoided detailed, specific responses when outlining how they will address health care issues as governor.

The Oklahoma Arthritis Network is a coalition of more than 200 organizations, businesses and individuals attempting to highlight health care issues in this year's elections.

In his response, Democratic candidate Brad Henry said he would lower prescription drug prices through "creative" methods, such as utilizing "multistate buying contracts to increase purchasing power to get lower prices on prescription drugs."

Henry also vowed "to protect Oklahoma's state Medicaid budget from cuts because those cuts will affect the most vulnerable and needy in our society," but did not say how he would prevent those cuts in the current budget climate.

"I envision Medicaid provider rates that ensure participation by many health care providers and a strong Medicaid budget that takes full advantage of the federal matching dollars," Henry said.

The Medicaid program has repeatedly faced shortfalls in recent years, and may have to cut programs again later this year due to declining state tax collections. Because of lower-than-expected tax collections, the Office of State Finance has ordered all state agencies to cut 4.75 percent from their fiscal year 2003 budgets. At the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the state Medicaid program, the cut could take $17.6 million in state dollars from the Medicaid program.

However, since the federal government provides $2.40 for every $1 of state money spent on Medicaid, the Medicaid program cuts could total nearly $60 million.

Henry said his plan to eliminate the income tax on most forms of retirement income would help senior citizens "who already have a difficult time paying for needed medical care and prescription drugs."

He also vowed to "work with the medical community on tort reform issues that will bring down the cost of insurance and the cost of providing health care," and said he would continue to fight for HMO reform.

In his response, Republican Steve Largent also said group- purchasing strategies could lower drug costs, but he also vowed to use tax credits and medical savings accounts to increase the number of people with health care coverage in Oklahoma.

"As governor, I will propose legislation to help enroll more Oklahomans in private health insurance plans that provide prescription drug benefits through refundable health care tax credits," he said. "I will also employ group strategies to leverage purchasing power for bulk discounts."

Largent said the use of medical savings accounts could help shore up the state's SoonerCare program, a portion of the Medicaid system that provides coverage to children in low-income families, the disabled and elderly people with limited income.

"I will propose using tax-free medical savings accounts to cover medical expenses of less than $10,000 for people between 133 and 185 percent of the federal poverty level," Largent said. "I will also propose adding a very small co-payment of $5 for doctor's visits to discourage over-utilization of our health care system."

In interviews with The Journal Record last summer, Largent was the only gubernatorial candidate to propose the use of co-payments in the Medicaid system. However, officials with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority are now considering the use of co-payments or even premiums as part of a total Medicaid reform package. …

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