Bill controlling mental health drugs rejected

pillsTOPEKA, Kan.: A proposal for controlling Kansas’ costs for expensive mental health drugs in its Medicaid program failed in the state Senate because some members worried that patients wouldn’t get the medications they need.

The Senate voted 25-15 against a bill repealing a 2002 law that prohibits restrictions in Medicaid on prescriptions for treating mental illnesses, such as a list of preferred drugs for doctors, or a requirement that the program sign off before a prescription is made. The state’s $3 billion-a-year Medicaid program provides health coverage for 368,000 needy and disabled state residents.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration estimated the state would save $16 million a year after repealing the law and pushed for the bill as part of a larger plan to erase a projected $600 million budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget shortfall arose after lawmakers aggressively cut income taxes at Brownback’s urging in 2012 and 2013 to stimulate the economy.

But Republicans who control the Senate split over the measure.
“My concern was that mental health patients may not be able to get the drugs that their providers are prescribing,” said Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican who opposed the bill. “It’s a very vulnerable population, very dependent on the right medication.”

Also, some senators said there wasn’t enough information about how the state would proceed after the law was repealed. Kansas turned over the administration of Medicaid to three private insurance companies in 2013, and Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said lawmakers would have to trust the state and the companies to “do the right thing” for Medicaid participants.

Kelly compared the measure to signing a contract without knowing the terms.
Brownback’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Senate’s vote. But the state’s budget problems mean the hunt for ways to control prescription drug costs within Medicaid isn’t over, despite the bill’s defeat.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Nickerson Republican, said the chamber would debate a bill to allow the state’s health secretary to require prior authorization for mental health drugs but set up a new board to review such decisions.

Several supporters of the bill said the measure wasn’t primarily about saving money but about protecting mentally ill Medicaid participants, particularly children, from being over-medicated with drugs that can have dangerous side effects.

“The 2002 law has prevented any protective oversight for patients and it is hindering efforts at improving health care outcomes,” said Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, in explaining her vote for the bill. -AP

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