Council OKs Discount Prescription Drug Plan

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Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles City Council took a key step Wednesday toward creating a prescription drug discount program for residents, a victory for the plan’s author, Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

The mayoral candidate has been stung by frequent criticism from Mayor James K. Hahn that he has done little in his two years on the council, but with 12 days left in the campaign, Villaraigosa has an important legislative accomplishment in his pocket.

“I think the fact that it had nearly unanimous support today indicates that this is an idea whose time has come,” Villaraigosa said after the 14-0 vote. One councilman was absent.

Villaraigosa left the council meeting early to attend a campaign event at Good Samaritan Hospital near downtown Los Angeles, where he discussed the drug plan with doctors.

Los Angeles is the first city in the United States to try to implement such a plan, according to Villaraigosa’s office. The action Wednesday creates the program, but another vote is required to implement it.

Under the plan, which is based on county programs on the East Coast, Los Angeles would contract with a so-called pharmacy benefits manager, a private firm that would negotiate a discount with drug manufacturers of as much as 30%. The only expected cost to the city would be paying one or two employees to oversee the program.

In Nassau County, New York, every household with a registered voter was sent a free prescription benefit card good at pharmacies in the area.

A 30-day supply of the cholesterol drug Lipitor, for example, costs residents there $101.36, compared with $108.99 to $127.95 without the card.

“There was opposition from the pharmacies — the discounts are being subsidized by them,” said Howard Weitzman, the comptroller of Nassau County. “But they ended up selling more drugs and more people were filling their entire prescriptions — plus more customers were coming into their stores.”

Weitzman said residents saved about $1.1 million in the program’s first four months last year. He also said that the program was successful because the card was free.

Villaraigosa said Los Angeles residents may have to pay $25 per year for a card, comparing it to a Costco membership.

Although the plan would be available to all residents, the primary beneficiaries would be the uninsured and those without adequate drug coverage.

“We think this is the front lines of prescription-drug reform,” said Jerry Flanagan, of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which helped Villaraigosa draft the plan.

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