Clip files / Local news from the states

This column features selected short items about state health care policy.

West Virginia could set precedent with drug price controls

WASHINGTON, DC—Struggling with skyrocketing drug costs, West Virginia lawmakers are poised to go head to head with the powerful pharmaceutical industry, potentially becoming the first state to impose price controls on prescription drugs. The move by West Virginia, where residents take five more prescription medications daily than the national average, could set a precedent for other states. Early this year, lawmakers approved legislation creating a council, made up of health officials, pharmacists, drug company officials, and professors, to come up with recommendations for reducing drug prices. The recommendations were due Sept. 15, and lawmakers were expected to go into special session in October to vote on the measures, which could include price controls. The council is looking at a range of options including consolidating the buying power of the state’s agencies to buy drugs cheaper in bulk and allowing the state to team with other states to buy drugs. A more aggressive approach would allow the state to negotiate prices on behalf of all residents — similar to what the Department of Veterans Affairs does for veterans. The council also is considering requiring drug companies to disclose the money spent on marketing drugs. — Newsday, Aug. 16, 2004

Governor increases aid payments to Virginia obstetricians

RICHMOND, VA—Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner has issued an emergency regulation boosting state reimbursements to doctors who provide obstetrical care to indigent women. The governor described the unprecedented action as a first step toward addressing concerns by obstetricians who say they cannot afford to continue delivering babies. According to the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, 775 obstetricians in Virginia offer care to Medicaid patients. The governor, a Democrat, said higher state payments for obstetrical services would begin Sept. 1. Reimbursements for nonsurgical deliveries will rise 34%, from $1,121 to $1,502. Payments for caesareans will increase from $1,270 to $1,702. The new rates represent approximately 80% of the amount private insurance companies pay for their customers in Virginia. The new reimbursement rates have an estimated price tag of $14.4 million annually. The state will pay half, with the federal government picking up the rest of the tab. — The Virginian-Pilot, Aug. 13, 2004