High Court keeps Maine RX alive

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on May 19 lifted an injunction that prevented the state of Maine from implementing its prescription drug program, Maine Rx, which would require pharmaceutical companies to provide the same discounts to uninsured patients that it provided to persons covered by health plans.

Companies refusing to comply with the discounting plan would not be listed on the state’s Medicaid plans list of preferred drugs.

In 2000, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry trade group that represents pharmaceutical companies, filed suit to block the program’s implementation arguing that it violates federal Medicaid law and interstate commerce laws.

A federal district court in Maine ruled in their favor, but the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned that decision in May 2001. Maine appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in June 2002.

The majority opinions indicate that the prevailing justices felt opponents of Maine’s plan should have first appealed to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary if they felt the measure violated federal Medicaid policy.

In the dissenting opinion, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and William Rehnquist said the district court had correctly blocked the Maine program because the pre-authorization requirement imposed a burden on Medicaid beneficiaries. The case now will return to the federal district court in Maine.

DNA bank in the works at Howard University

Saying they fear blacks are being left behind as scientists research genetic links to disease, officials at Howard University in Washington, DC, have announced plans to create the country’s largest repository of DNA from African-Americans.

Howard, a historically black institution, plans to gather blood samples or cheek swabs from 25,000 people over five years, mainly patients at hospitals associated with the school’s College of Medicine.

Floyd J. Malveaux, MD, dean of the medical school, told The New York Times on May 27 that genetic information would increasingly find the causes of disease, predict susceptibility to an illness, and choose which drugs would work best for a particular patient. It is important, he added, that the health concerns of blacks are included in this research. In the past, he said, such concerns have often not received enough attention.