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Friday, June 6, 2008

Senators want to block potentially higher drug co-pays

By Dan Osburn • Gannett News Service • June 6, 2008


ALBANY- As the prices of health insurance and prescription drugs continue to skyrocket, some lawmakers supported a bill yesterday that would block insurance companies from dramatically raising the cost of drugs for people that use expensive medications. Sen. John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, and other Senate Democrats rallied in support of a bill that would ban insurance companies from requiring much higher co-pays for certain drugs without generic equivalents.

New Yorkers could pay as much as $1,250 on a drug that costs $5,000 a month, Sampson said. An aide couldn't say how many people would be affected if the higher payments were approved. The pricing system the legislation would block could increase the cost of drugs for some New Yorkers - especially those with chronic diseases like hepatitis or multiple sclerosis - by thousands of dollars a year, he said. P.J. Weiner of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society said MS patients usually pay a co-payment of $20 to $50 for a month's supply of drugs that cost $2,000. Under the percentage-based pricing system, patients would pay between $420 and $800 per month, she said. The bill banning the higher costs is sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chairman Sen. Kemp Hannon, Nassau County. Assemblywoman Michelle Titus, D-Queens, is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly. But the system the bill would block isn't even in place yet, pointed out State Insurance Department spokesman Andrew Mays. However, opponents say similar arrangements have been approved in other states and they want to block it ahead of time. Paul Macielak, president of the New York Health Plan Association, an advocacy group for private insurance companies, said he opposes making drug users pay a percentage of the cost of their prescriptions. But he said drug companies should have flexibility when setting up payment plans. "By taking this blanket-prohibition approach they restrict any flexibly, any innovation, anything that could even save people some money and still provide pharmaceutical coverage," he said. Instead of a system where consumers pay a percentage of the drug cost, Macielak said he supports a system that offers a wider range of co-pays, especially for generic drugs.

Reach Dan Osburn at

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