Douglas signs prescription drug bill

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has signed a new prescription drug bill into law that’s designed to reduce prescription drug expenses by several million dollars a year.

Advocates of the legislation think the proposal could result in lower drug prices for all consumers.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The legislation specifically addresses a practice known as “data mining” by the drug companies. It’s a system that allows a company to find out exactly the drugs individual doctors are prescribing to their patients.

For instance, if the company discovers that a doctor often prescribes a drug of one of their competitors, they can target the physician for an aggressive marketing campaign to promote their drug.

Because several courts have ruled that states can’t ban this practice, Vermont lawmakers took a slightly different approach – the information can be collected only from doctors who choose to be part of the program – it’s expected that very few physicians will make this choice.

The Vermont Medical Society urged lawmakers to pass the bill – Paul Harrington is vice president of the group:

(Harrington) “The Medical Society believes strongly that drug companies having access to a physician’s prescribing information was an intrusion on the physician patient relationship. And in fact most physicians were unaware that the drug company marketers, when they came to the physician’s office to promote their particular brand drug, already had the physician’s prescribing information in hand.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Chapter of AARP also strongly backed the bill – Philene Taormina is the group’s legislative director:

(Taormina) “Hopefully it’s going to lower prescription drug prices. Drug costs are high for consumers in Vermont and for the state and the data mining provision is an attempt to really lower prices by curbing over utilization of the most expensive drugs that are heavily marketed by pharmaceutical manufacturers.”

(Kinzel) Taormina says another key part of the bill promotes the use of generic drugs. According to a recent AARP report, the cost of brand name drugs increased roughly 6% last year while the cost of generics went down by 2 %:

(Taormina) “That would really try to fight fire with a little bit of fire by having a pilot program for generics that are shown to be by evidence just as efficacious as a prescription brand name drug, and that by using the generics, by having the samples, then the patient is more likely to say, I want that same prescription’.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also requires pharmaceutical companies to provide evidence-based information to all physicians concerning the benefits and risks of their drugs.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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