Ohio's lesson for Medicare Part D

State, patients, doctors like new Medicaid drug plan

By Catherine Candisky
The Columbus Dispatch
April 14, 2009

When the state took back control of Medicaid's prescription-drug program last year, there was a lot of talk about how the move would save millions.

It has.

But it's also making it easier for patients to get the medications they need.

An analysis by the Ohio Coalition for Patient Rights found that Medicaid patients have improved access to "quality and appropriate" treatments and medications.

On Feb. 1, the state created a single, statewide drug formulary for all Medicaid programs, replacing eight different managed-care pharmacy plans.

At the time, state officials said the so-called carve-out would save money because the state is eligible for savings programs such as drug-company rebates.

The Coalition for Patient Rights' analysis compared access to 122 drugs for health conditions including asthma, heart disease, diabetes and mental illness. It found that the state formulary, in many instances, placed fewer restrictions on patients' ability to obtain medications prescribed by their doctor.

Such restrictions include the need for prior authorization from the insurer before a drug can be obtained and requiring patients to try different drugs before medications prescribed by their doctors can be made available.

Physicians also are applauding the change.

"We supported the idea of the carve-out because each managed-care company had its own formulary, and from an administrative perspective, it was a nightmare," said Ann Spicer of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians.

"It's much simpler dealing with a single formulary, and the number of prior authorizations have been drastically reduced."


By Don McCanne, MD

Enactment of Medicare Part D - the Medicare drug program - was a gift to the pharmaceutical industry and the private intermediaries managing the drug benefits. The government was even explicitly prohibited from negotiating drug prices in a competing plan. Many of us at the time objected to the rejection of the broader concept of having the government as the exclusive administrator of the Part D pharmaceutical benefit. We could have had greater savings and less third party intrusion if we had adopted a public program instead.

The story from Ohio is a vindication for those of us who still insist that the Medicare Part D program should be revamped into a public program that would better serve patients, without wasting funds on the excesses of the pharmaceutical firms and the pharmacy benefit managers.

Think of how this compares with the recent health care financing reform process. The debate ended up being over a competing public insurance option, after totally rejecting any consideration of a single publicly administered insurance program for everyone. Eventually even the public option was rejected, just as a competing public Part D option had been rejected. The Republicans established the flawed policy principles with Part D, and the Democrats have now followed the same path.

The Ohio experience demonstrates not only that Medicare drug benefits should be administered by the government, but also, by extrapolation, that our entire health care financing infrastructure should be converted into an improved Medicare for everyone. We can still do that.