Drug dispensing fight ready to be renewed during 2013 legislative session

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With the 2013 legislative session still nearly 10 months away, a renewed fight is building about a proposal to limit how much doctors can charge for dispensing drugs to workers-compensation insurance patients.

As an indication, a subcommittee of the state Government Efficiency Task Force recommended Thursday that the proposal be approved to help reduce workers-compensation insurance costs.

The full task force might not vote on the recommendation, with Chairman Abraham Uccello saying in a letter this week that the panel would not have time to fully consider the dispensing issue. But Uccello also said in the letter he is “certain that a subject of such importance will continue to be discussed during upcoming sessions of the Legislature.”

“There’s no way this doesn’t come back next session,” said David Hart, an executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a key supporter of the plan.

Uccello’s letter was sent to Thomas Panza, an attorney for Automated HealthCare Solutions, a politically influential firm that provides dispensing technology to doctors and has led efforts to kill the price-limit proposal. Earlier this week, Panza raised conflict-of-interest questions about members of the task force subcommittee, which includes former House Speaker Larry Cretul — who now works in the Florida Chamber’s political operation.

The debate centers on doctors dispensing what are known as “repackaged” drugs in their offices to workers-compensation patients, instead of writing prescriptions that would be filled at pharmacies. Such repackaged drugs are not subject to the same price limits that apply to other drugs in the workers-compensation system.

Major business groups, such as the chamber, Associated Industries of Florida and the National Federation of Independent Business, lobbied heavily this year to try to apply the same price limits to doctor-dispensed drugs. But the proposal died, after particularly facing opposition in the Senate.

The business groups contend that placing the price limits on doctor-dispensed drugs could reduce employers’ workers-compensation insurance costs by $62 million. But Panza has repeatedly questioned the validity of such numbers.

Also, opponents of the price limits argue that doctor dispensing can help improve care of workers-compensation patients. They say it increases the compliance of patients getting and taking needed medications.

Hart told the subcommittee Thursday that the chamber doesn’t oppose physicians dispensing drugs — only the “sheer markup” in the prices.

The Government Efficiency Task Force, which was created in the state Constitution, is required to submit recommendations to the governor, the Legislature Budget Commission and the Supreme Court chief justice about improving government operations and reducing costs. The governor, House speaker and Senate president appoint the task force’s members.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.