Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Prescription Drug Legislation News Conference
January 30, 2003

Good afternoon, and thanks for coming.

Every month, many Washington senior citizens face a terrible dilemma. These seniors are forced to make grim, unavoidable decisions. These decisions take various forms, but it comes down to the same thing.

Should I pay for my prescribed medicine, or should I pay the heating bill? Should I do without my prescriptions or do I give up half my groceries? Should I pay for the drugs I need to stay healthy or should I pay my rent?

These are agonizing choices. Nobody should ever have to make them. And itís especially shameful that our most vulnerable citizens are forced to make them.

For seniors who decide they just canít afford their prescription meds, there can be dire health implications. And further burden on our already severely strained health care system.

Whatís the solution? We know that the soaring costs of medical care continue to burden our health care system and make our stateís fiscal condition worse. An estimated 50,000 older people of modest income in our state get no help at allóthey donít have any prescription drug coverage. Astronomical prescription drug costs hurt those who canít afford the medicines they need, and they hurt the rest of us who struggle to bear the financial burden

We know we canít handle these skyrocketing costs alone and forever at the state level. We know we must continue to push Congress and the Administration to provide a national solution to the nationís health care woes. I talked with Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in Washington D.C. earlier this week. We agreed that prescription drugs for seniors are a part of this national problem.

The cost of prescription drugs is a key driver of our escalating health care costs. And while we know we need national solutions, letís recognize that as a state, there are things we can and must do to help our vulnerable citizens.

Thatís why legislation to attack rising prescription drug costs is so important. But Iíd like to emphasize some key priorities as we try to attack this problem.

We should be using our purchasing power as a state. Iíd like to establish a broad-based purchasing consortium of state, local and private entities. This consortium would work to achieve cost-effective pricing for quality prescription drugs.

I would also like to see and have proposed that we set up a Prescription Drug Information Clearinghouse. This Clearinghouse would help low-income seniors obtain quality prescription drugs that are available free, or at low cost, from pharmaceutical companies, using a toll free hot-line. It would provide information on generic drugs and discount purchasing clubs.

We will also continue to pursue a federal waiver allowing Washington to provide the single benefit of prescription drug coverage to qualifying low-income seniors through the Medicaid program.

We need to do our best to help our senior citizens, and we need to start now. We need to help them avoid having to make those harsh choices.

I am looking forward to working with the Legislature in passing legislation to help with prescription drug costs. There are many ideas on the table. We will work together to find the best way to do what we can to tackle this problem and bring down the costs of prescription drugs.

Weíve fought this battle for a long time. Together, this session, I am confident that we will finally win it.

Thank you.
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