The recent tragic events brought on by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have dramatically underscored what can happen to our nation's poor and disabled - the most vulnerable among us - when government protections and healthcare services disappear. The vivid images of the most helpless people, fending for themselves, are not ones that I, or any other American will soon forget.
Unfortunately, some government proposals, currently under consideration in Wash-ington, have the potential to rip the rug out from under this country's neediest people again.
The U.S. Congress currently is considering $10 billion in cuts in the Medicaid program over five years. The Medicaid program covers the poor and disabled, more than 50 percent of who are children. Yes, Medicaid spending needs to be contained but not in a way that will limit access for patients and end up costing more in the long run.
Nearly half of the proposed Medicaid budget cuts ($4.7 billion) will come from pharmacy, even though phar-macy reimbursement costs equal only 2 percent of Medicaid spending. Furthermore, the reimbursement formulas cur-rently being discussed would mean that pharmacists would actually LOSE money for every Medicaid prescription they dispense! The result would be, pharmacies forced to drop out of the Medicaid program, patients losing access to needed medicines and higher ultimate costs when patients end up in the emergency room or a nursing home.
Community pharmacists are in a unique position to help drive down Medicaid prescription drug costs, while at the same time maintaining the healthcare safety net on which so many people depend. By encouraging patients to switch to generic drugs, billions of dollars could be saved every year.
The percentage of Medicaid recipients who currently fill their prescriptions with generic drugs varies from state to state, but averages about 52 percent nationwide. A modest 8 percent increase in the use of generic drugs would save the Medicaid program $19 billion over five years - more savings than called for in the President's budget.
A sensible and fair reimbursement formula for pharmacists, one that would encourage dispensing generic prescriptions, would be a win-win-win solution: a win for patients, a win for Medicaid cost containment and a win for pharmacists.
Unless modified, the cuts in Medicaid, currently being debated in Washington, are worse than shortsighted. They are a prescription for disaster.