Senate moves to end long-running drug repackaging fight

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In what the bill’s sponsor called a “long awaited day,” Florida senators Tuesday might have resolved years of battling about doctors who dispense drugs to workers-compensation insurance patients, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a plan that would set limits on how much doctors can charge when they dispense medications to injured workers instead of writing prescriptions that would be filled at pharmacies.

While the issue might not sound politically sexy, it has drawn heavy lobbying in recent years from business groups, insurers and parts of the health-care industry. Bill sponsor Alan Hays said the plan is a compromise that came after he gathered the parties to hammer out their differences.

“We got in a room and I said, ‘Listen guys, we’ve got to get together on this thing,’ ” he said.

Hays said the plan, which was added to SB 662 and is now headed for the Senate floor, is projected to save about $20 million in workers-compensation insurance costs. It also would need to be approved by the House and Gov. Rick Scott to take effect.

The issue centers on doctors dispensing what are known as “repackaged” drugs, which they buy in small supplies instead of in the bulk amounts purchased by pharmacies. The workers-compensation system sets limits on what pharmacies can charge, but the use of repackaged drugs has made those limits not apply to doctors.

As a result, business and insurance groups argued that doctor dispensing drives up workers-compensation costs and that physicians should face the same price limits as pharmacies. But their past attempts to get those limits approved have failed, and it was unclear whether lawmakers would go along this year.

David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, praised Hays for negotiating the compromise plan. But he also made clear he wants to see insurance rate reductions.

“Obviously, these are just estimates for now and the real proof will come in the future,” Hart said in an emailed statement. “If for some reason the compromise does not yield results, we will be back and looking for additional ways to rein in this and other workers’ comp cost drivers.”

Tuesday’s committee meeting was remarkable for its lack of debate about the issue, with groups such as the Florida Chamber, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Medical Association simply signaling their support from the crowd. 

Also expressing support was Automated HealthCare Solutions, a South Florida-based company that supplies dispensing-related technology to doctors. The company is a major contributor in Republican politics and played a key role in lobbying against earlier attempts to limit the amounts charged by doctors.

Supporters of physician dispensing argue that the practice helps ensure that workers-compensation patients get needed medications.

“Physician dispensing is more convenient for the patient and increases patient compliance with treatment,” said Timothy Stapleton, executive vice president of the Florida Medical Association. “This ultimately keeps workers’ comp costs down.”

The plan would allow doctors to charge 112.5 percent of the average wholesale price of drugs, an industry measuring stick, and an additional $8 dispensing fee. That would be higher than the amounts pharmacies can charge, which is the average wholesale price of drugs and a $4.18 dispensing fee.

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.