Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
News Conference--Prescription Drug Bill Signing
June 26, 2003

Good morning. I’m very pleased to be here, and we really appreciate this opportunity to join you here at the Tukwila Community Center.

With me today are:

· Senator Alex Deccio, R-Yakima
· Representative Eileen Cody, D-Seattle
· Lauren Moughon, Advocacy Director of AARP Washington

And our special guest today:

· Kathleen (Kay) Unmuth

We are here to mark an important victory for our state and its citizens.

Until now, many Washington senior citizens have faced a terrible dilemma every month:

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.

Today we are freeing many of our state’s most vulnerable from such harsh choices. We are fighting back against the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs. I am pleased that after a long struggle, I am signing into law Washington’s landmark prescription drug legislation. The new law contains all of the key elements I proposed at the beginning of the session, with some added features proposed by Representative Cody and Senator Deccio.

The bill I am signing this morning very clearly allows state agencies to adopt a “preferred” drug list created by a committee of medical professionals. The panel will look at classes of drugs. They will evaluate, and select medications that are equally effective but offer the best price. After the list is compiled, we will negotiate with drug companies for even lower prices. This will include companies on the list, and those who did not make the list.

The state will save money—tens of millions of dollars, because we pay for the cost of prescription drugs for hundreds of thousands of low-income seniors, children, injured workers and even state and local employees. We will also extend our purchasing leverage to the public. People over 50 and the disabled will be able to purchase at the same lower prices too, as long as they are under 300% of the federal poverty level.

Oregon has a similar preferred drug list. But their program is completely voluntary for physicians, affects only their Medicaid program, and isn’t available to the public.

Our program applies across all state agency drug-purchasing programs. Pharmacists will be authorized to use the list and to substitute preferred lower cost drugs for the ones prescribed by doctors. And discounts will be passed on to other seniors and the disabled who need them most.

The new law also establishes a clearinghouse to 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 will provide information on generic drugs and discount purchasing clubs.

This legislation has been a long time coming. I signed Executive Order 00-04 in late 2000 to offer prescription drug price discounts through the Health Care Authority of Washington—the AWARDS program. The AWARDS discount program was a good idea and a good start. Unfortunately, it was challenged in the courts and overturned in late 2001. We tried in 2002 to obtain clear legislation authorizing discounts, but we were unsuccessful. But we did not give up, and here we are today.

This new law will help reduce the high cost of prescription drugs for thousands of people in our state. And we’ll be able to offer even lower prices than the AWARDS program offered. We expect the discounts to be available within the next 12 months. That’s good news for seniors and the disabled in our state as we continue to fight soaring health care costs.

Before I sign this bill into law, I would like to introduce Kathleen—“Kay”—Unmuth. Kay is a 77-year old Bellevue resident. She is on a limited income. She has been spending more than $400 per month on prescription drugs. This is more than 35% of her annual income! This is a great day for Kay and thousands of others across our state. We’ve fought long and hard for this reform. We can take pride in this progress.

Let’s build on this progress and continue to fight the high cost of health care. And let’s continue to demand that our President and our Congress give the health care crisis the national attention it deserves.

With great pleasure, I will now sign the prescription drug bill into law.

This is a great step forward for our state.

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