THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Repackaged-Drug Bill Advances in Florida Senate

Jan 20, 2012

The following article was published in The Sunshine News on January 20, 2012:

Repackaged-Drug Bill Advances in Senate

By Michael Peltier

Following a last-minute amendment backers don’t like but had no time to defeat, a measure restricting the price physicians can charge for repackaged prescription drugs passed its first Senate committee on Thursday.

The proposal, SB 668, caps fees doctors can charge on prescriptions filled in their offices for workers’ compensation patients. The fee, $4.18 per prescription, is the same fee that pharmacies get paid for similar workers’ comp orders.

Backers of the bill, a coalition of business groups and insurance companies, say it would save $62 million a year by eliminating mark-ups they say can run over 600 percent in some cases for drugs that are dispensed at a physician’s office.

“There is nothing in this bill that prohibits or restricts the dispensing of medications by physicians,” said House sponsor Rep. Allan Hays, R-Umatilla. “The bill, however, will stop them from ripping off the system by charging extremely inflated fees for the medications.”

Critics are skeptical. According to their numbers, the entire physician-dispensing industry is a $63 million business. The math just doesn’t add up, opponents say.

They also say insurance companies already have the ability to screen physicians to ensure that those dispensing medications do so economically.

“It’s a carrier-directed state, the insurance company tells the patients where to go,” said Tom Panza, a lobbyist for Automated Healthcare Solution, a Florida-based company that provides software for self-dispensing physicians.

Business groups have been pushing for restrictions on physician-dispensing for several years.

In 2010, a measure restricting the practice was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Business groups brought the issue back up after state insurance regulators in October approved rate hikes of 8.9 percent. Of that, 2.5 percent was due to repackaging costs.

“The rising workers’ compensation rates are driving up the cost of doing business in Florida,” said Tamela Perdue, general counsel for Associated Industries of Florida, in a statement. “Physicians dispensing repackaged drugs that have been knocked off the fee schedule are creating millions of dollars in unwarranted expenses for businesses.”

The House companion, HB 511, has passed its first subcommittee and is awaiting action in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

During Senate committee debate Thursday, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, added an amendment that would prevent insurance companies from barring patients from getting medications from physicians.

Though he didn’t support the amendment, Hays called on colleagues to add it to his bill and send it on.

“I say, ‘let’s put the amendment on there and we’ll deal with it next week,'” Hays said.

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