Posted on 20 Mar 2013 by Neilson
One of the longest-running special-interest fights in the state Capitol was renewed Tuesday when a House committee debated whether doctors should be allowed to charge higher prices than pharmacies when they prescribe drugs for workers-comp patients.
On one side are health-insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation, whose members include pharmacy chains such as Walgreen's and CVS.
On the other are Automated Healthcare Solutions, a Broward County-based business that sells drug-dispensing software to physicians, and the Florida Medical Association, the statewide doctors' lobby.
In front of a standing-room crowd of lobbyists representing the warring interests, the House Health Quality Subcommittee passed a bill (HB 605) sponsored by Naples Republican Rep. Matt Hudson that would prohibit the practice.
Supporters of the measure say doctors who "repackage" prescription drugs inflate workers-compensation insurance costs, which are ultimately borne by businesses. Analysts estimate the practice increases costs by an estimated $27 million a year and that prohibiting it could lead to a 1 percent decrease in workers' comp insurance rates.
"Close this loophole and fix this problem for the employers of Florida," said David Hart, a lobbyist for the Florida Chamber.
Tom Panza, a lobbyist representing Automated Healthcare Solutions, said the cost estimates are wildly overblown. He said the true increase in annuals costs is "probably" closer to $5 million or $6 million. But he said it is important physicians be allowed to charge higher prices for the drugs they dispense, because they do not have the enormous bulk-buying power of retail pharmacy chains.
"The issue is, if Walgreen's or CVS or whoever goes out and buys a million pills, obviously there's going to be a lower rate," he said.
The Senate is expected to begin moving on the issue today, when its Banking and Insurance Committee will take up an identical bill (SB 662) sponsored by Lake County Republican Sen. Alan Hays.
The business lobby has fallen inches short of winning this battle before. It persuaded the Legislature to pass a similar bill in 2010, only to see it vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist. It got the House to do so again last year, but the legislation died on the Senate floor, tied up in a separate fight over charter-school legislation.