State of Health Care

In his State of the Union address last night, President Bush devoted two sentences to one of our nation’s most pressing economic concerns, the rising cost of health care. He prodded Congress to move forward on a “comprehensive health care agenda” which includes a raft of warmed-over proposals already proven to have little effect on the nation’s soaring health care costs. Things he didn’t mention included “reimportation” (drugs from Canada were supposed to be “coming” by now) and the issue of bulk purchasing power — at the bidding of big PHARMA, the final version of the 2003 Medicare bill blocked the health secretary from negotiating down prices with drug companies.

Thankfully, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle’s (D) “State of the State” address last month proved there are some government officials devoted to doing something about the issue. Doyle outlined a proposal to expand a bargain shopping strategy — buying in bulk — to help 500,000 uninsured residents in his state get better prices on their prescription medicine. His plan would let uninsured Wisconsinites pay a small enrollment fee to join BadgerRx, the state’s prescription drug bulk-purchasing pool, which currently is limited to state employees and private businesses. The pool already saved Wisconsin $25 million on prescription drugs in 2004.

Doyle’s plan is by no means unique. In Washington, newly elected Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) on Jan. 19 called on the legislature to authorize a bulk-purchasing consortium. In Georgia, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor (D) is proposing something similar to Doyle’s plan. And in Connecticut, Sen. Edith Prague (D) has introduced a bill that would develop a way to buy prescription drugs in bulk for state agencies from Canadian pharmacies.

According to Stateline, 20 states are currently using some form of bulk purchasing to reduce inefficiencies and their bottom line. If President Bush was serious about cutting the deficit and controlling health care costs, he would have the federal government look into these programs.