AP Article Shows Dangers of Medicaid Prescription Drug Policies to Patients

AP Article Shows Dangers of Medicaid Prescription Drug Policies to Patients

03.26.12 | By Greg Lopes

We all know governments are looking to save money these days. There are right ways to do it, and there are risky, misguided ways to do it.

A recent article by Associated Press reporter Carla K. Johnson takes a look at Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal in Illinois to reduce spending on medicines in the state's Medicaid program. The article does a good job of portraying the risks associated with restricting access to prescription medicines.

According to the article, Illinois's proposal to lawmakers to cut Medicaid coverage for medicines drew this response from Stephanie Altman of Health and Disability Advocates, a Chicago-based advocacy group: "The fact that they put it on the list of possible cuts is almost laughable to me."

The article adds: "'Can you imagine,' Altman asked rhetorically, 'how many emergency room visits and hospitalizations you'd see if patients couldn't get their antipsychotic drugs, their blood thinners and their insulin?'"

She is right on the money. The evidence shows that the potential cost savings on other services from appropriate use of medicines can be significant, particularly for the growing number of Americans with chronic health conditions.

Researchers concluded that access to prescription drug coverage under Part D has had positive clinical benefits, improving beneficiaries' underlying health status and reducing their need for hospital care. For example, a 2011 study by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that hospitalization rates for Medicare beneficiaries declined more in states where a large number of seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D.

The article points out specifics in Illinois's proposal, such as putting limits on the number of prescriptions that can be filled. Other states have implemented this policy in their Medicaid programs. This is a misguided approach to budgetary savings - as the article points out, the HIV/AIDS population in the state could unfairly be denied access to life-saving treatments.

There is need to balance budgets, but adopting misguided Medicaid policies can end up doing just the opposite by ballooning health care costs while at the same time risking patient health.

Follow Greg on Twitter @GregAtPhRMA

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