Saturday, January 19, 2008


Lingle's Legacy (2): cheating seniors out of their prescription benefits

by Larry Geller

In an earlier article I listed up some of the laws that Lingle has refused to implement by withholding or delaying funds. I've also just written about her obstinate refusal to let go of the $3 million that the Legislature apportioned for pedestrian safety.

Let's look at the Rx Plus program next. As you may know this law should have been implemented years ago. Seniors, persons with disabilities, and those below a given income ceiling should have been able to save money by taking advantage of this program.

From 2004-2007, Rx Plus, by giving Hawaii residents the benefit of state negotiations with drug companies, should have saved them from having to choose between food, rent, and their medicines. I can't say it didn't save money. At a meeting attended by Department of Human Services head Lillian Koller, she let us know that it saved those who took advantage of it an average of nine cents. No typo, that's 9ยข. Please don't laugh. This is pathetic. In a real world, someone who brought in only a nine cent discount would be summarily fired. But not here, because, of course, the law and intent of the Legislature is not what runs things.

2004 Majority Package Leaflet Cover Since I'm an incurable packrat, I still have the 2004 Democratic Majority Package leaflet where I first saw this program mentioned. It's dated January 2004.

Prescription DrugsInside, the Rx Plus program (click for larger) is featured.

Well, the law, as it came out, said that DHS "may" negotiation with the pharmaceutical companies for lower prices. Although the intent of the Legislature was clear, our governor did not implement the law. Shucks, it said "may," right? So no need. Nevermind all the seniors having to pay full price for drugs to her drug company buddies (Pharmaceutical companies (Pharma) are the second biggest lobby in Hawaii, according to a Pacific Business News list published just this Friday).

So in 2006, the Legislature amended the law, changing "may" to "shall."  That's S-H-A-L-L. What is there not to understand?

It didn't help.

Here we are, the 2008 legislative session has just begun, the law was strengthened, and still, no benefits. As you may know, drug prices have steadily increased, and many seniors find themselves in President Bush's so-called "doughnut hole" where their Part-D insurance no longer pays for their drugs at all.

I was surprised. Yes, I was. Just after Lingle took office, that first session, she came down to the Legislature to testify on a mental health bill. I think it was the parity bill, I'm not sure. I was very moved. I thought, finally, we have a governor who cares. Well, I was fooled. Many psychopharmacological drugs are very expensive. Her refusal to negotiate with drug companies may help her should she seek higher office, but it doesn't help those with mental illness who are stuck paying for these medicines.

[I gave up my misimpression completely when, at the end of the session, she vetoed bills including one for a service for the blind.]

So now what? I am not sure what the Legislature can do. DHS' Lillian Koller would probably negotiate strongly for lower prices if she didn't have a leash around her neck. I find it hard to blame her for the plight of seniors and others. But she is the one who has to take the pounding, although direction for each of the department heads comes from above.

Stay tuned for more in this Legacy series.

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