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A second multistate drug-purchasing effort is forming, this time in the Southeast. Led by West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, the group-buying effort includes Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Washington State is also participating in the talks, which have thus far consisted of two meetings, most recently on April 30.
The states are interested in pooling their buying power to try to force greater rebates from drug manufacturers. The effort is similar to a drug-buying pool launched by Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont last year. The New England effort is aimed at reducing the cost of pharmaceuticals for Medicaid recipients, state employees, and the uninsured — about 1.3 million people. In late April, Wise signed legislation that would create a purchasing pool for state workers; one strategy under consideration is directing business to a single pharmacy benefit manager.
In another pharmacy-related development, WellPoint Health Networks presented evidence to the FDA May 11 on its request to switch popular branded antihistamines to over-the-counter status. WellPoint says they are safer than current over-the-counter products; pharmaceutical companies say it's all about shifting costs to the consumer. It's the first time someone other than a manufacturer has requested OTC status for specific prescription products.
Those products, and many others, are heavily promoted to the public. Now, the FDA has begun a review of its 1997 policy that allowed direct-to-consumer advertising to explode — to the chagrin of MCOs, which claim the FDA unleashed a trend that sent their pharmacy costs skyrocketing. The FDA will decide by year's end whether the ads "confuse consumers and adversely impact the relationship between patients and their health care providers."