The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 7, 2007

Senate panel kills House prescription drug measure

Mannix Porterfield

CHARLESTON — A voice vote Wednesday by a Senate panel sounded the death knell to a House measure intended to lower prescription drug costs in West Virginia and force manufacturers to detail marketing and advertising strategies.

But to some Senate Health and Human Resources Committee panelists, certain provisions smacked of an anti-business flavor, including one that could send drug makers to prison up to 10 years for stopping production of an unprofitable product if viewed as an attempt to fix prices.

In its move, the committee refused to send out HB3164, even though a lead sponsor, Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, offered a compromise with Gov. Joe Manchin earlier in the day.

The bill was an updated model of the affordability and availability act of 2004 and had attracted massive support from a coalition of education, labor and religious leaders across the state.

Manchin had insisted from the get-go that any negotiations by West Virginia to lower drug costs be done by a consortium of eight states, rather than 5 million covered individuals.

Perdue agreed to a consortium of five states, suggesting the House would agree to that.

Even before the panel elected to reject the House measure, Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, wanted to ship it off to the judiciary committee for further review, given a host of penalties for price fixing.

Afterward, two panelists agreed the Senate vote was a proper one.

“I’m as concerned as much as anybody about the cost of health care, and in particular, prescription drugs,” Sen. Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier, said after the committee vote.

“But this bill doesn’t solve that problem. It was a severe restriction on trade, in my opinion.”

Guills said he would have been more inclined to support Manchin’s proposed strike and insert bill, and was prepared to offer amendments on his own.

“Had we passed this bill as it came over from the House, it would have been quite frankly a movement away from ‘Open for Business’ in this state,” he said.

Another southern lawmaker, Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, felt it was asking the Senate too much to act on a complex issue with three days left in the session.

“Conceptually, obviously I think we need to work to continue to provide lower prescription costs to the citizens of West Virginia,” Green said.

“But we need to make sure we’re acting in a responsible manner.”

Green said he never received the House version until Monday, leaving insufficient time to digest its contents.

“This is something that really needs to be looked at, not crammed through here in the last three days of the session,” he added.

Perdue acknowledged the bill wouldn’t get to first base without Manchin’s support and agreed to a consortium of five states, three fewer than the governor initially wanted.

“I think the House would be very supportive of amending HB3164 to give the governor until Sept. 30, 2008 — a full 18 months — to get five states on board with this program,” the chairman of the House Health and Human Resources Committee said.

“Should he fail, the requirement would revert back to the 5 million as was previously proposed.”

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mannix@register-herald.com