Punch & Judy: Thanks a lot, Mr. President!

March 6, 2006

As if the cash flow problems many pharmacists are experiencing lately due to Medicare Part D aren't bad enough, President Bush just delivered another sucker punch to the nation's drug professionals. He signed the budget reconciliation bill, which cuts Medicaid reimbursement to pharmacies for generic drugs by a whopping $6.3 billion over the next five years.

As if the cash flow problems many pharmacists are experiencing lately due to Medicare Part D aren't bad enough, President Bush just delivered another sucker punch to the nation's drug professionals. He signed the budget reconciliation bill, which cuts Medicaid reimbursement to pharmacies for generic drugs by a whopping $6.3 billion over the next five years.

Only last month the federal government found that the U.S. healthcare spending growth rate slowed in 2004 to its lowest level in the past decade thanks in part to the use of generics. Now with the passage of the budget reconciliation bill, the national effort to arrest our healthcare spending tab might be set back again.

Can you believe this? After all the unreimbursed emergency drug supplies that pharmacists have provided to Medicare patients to tide them over, the White House makes such a statement! Not surprisingly, Bush's remark has touched off a storm of protest from pharmacists all over the country. Reportedly, phones are ringing off the hook at APhA, NACDS, and NCPA offices as a result of calls from pharmacists who are up to here with the Administration.

These pharmacy associations have all issued strongly worded statements of objection to Bush's remark-and rightly so. John Gans, executive VP of APhA, fulminated, "Cutting Medicaid payments to pharmacy is an affront to the very profession that has dispensed hundreds of thousands of dollars of prescription drugs to Medicare beneficiaries in the first six weeks of the fledgling Medicare drug benefit. Adding insult to that injury, by saying that pharmacists have intentionally overcharged their patients goes too far.

"If it becomes financially impossible for pharmacists to serve Medicaid patients, it won't matter if patients have a drug benefit," Gans went on. "A benefit is moot if patients can't go to their local pharmacist to get their prescription medications."

To reform Medicaid, Congress could have targeted brand drugs, which are more to blame for high Medicaid costs than generics. Instead, the Administration focused on generics and pharmacies. "It appears that the Bush Administration considers pharmacy to be an easy target," groused NCPA's executive VP Bruce Roberts.

Pharmacists are sick and tired of being picked on all the time. What hurts even more is that a majority of pharmacists had voted for Bush in the last two Presidential elections. As they say, with a friend like Bush, who needs enemies?

Come on, Mr. President, give us a break!