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Kentucky Senate acts on drug discount program for safety-net providers

Stu Johnson

Members of the Kentucky Senate debated drug prices Friday in the context of rural hospitals providing services to low-income citizens. It became a philosophical discussion about financial impacts for individuals and the healthcare system.

The bill seeks to prohibit drug manufacturers from scaling back sizeable discounts to providers who serve a disproportionate number of Medicaid or self-pay patients. Responding to comments about cost-shifting, GOP Bill Sponsor Stephen Meredith said it’s a vote for Main Street or Wall Street.

“If this bill does not pass it will not impact on the cost of healthcare. It’s gonna increase profits for pharmaceutical..but it’s gonna take vital healthcare dollars away from the most vulnerable communities that we have in this state,” said Meredith.

Northern Kentucky GOP Senator Gex Williams said he would be for the bill if citizens with private insurance would get a lower price.

“But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Those people who are paying every month, their insurance..when they go get care, pay their deductibles..they’re gonna be paying the same high price they’re paying today, if this bill passes.”

Meredith said the majority of providers both rural and urban use the discounted drugs just to survive. He said free market principals don’t exist in health care and that would mean doing away with Medicaid and Medicare, which he added isn’t going to happen.

During the floor debate in the Senate, GOP Alexandria Senator Shelley Funke Frommeyer expressed opposition to the bill saying the federal government should be responsible for making changes in the drug discount program. Williams said the need is to protect the, quote, “real payers, the constituents.”

Meredith, meanwhile, said a no vote would result in poorer outcomes among the state’s most vulnerable. Louisville Democratic Senator Karen Berg applauded the bill and said the cost of prevention is less than paying for care later on. She called a yes vote the fiscally responsible thing to do.

The bill passed 32 to 5 and goes to the House.

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Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 35 years. His primary beat is Lexington/Fayette government.
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