Missouri to sue feds over drug program

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Attorney General Jay Nixon said the state stands to lose $400 million over the next five years.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A new federal program designed to provide more seniors with affordable prescription drugs is instead a costly and illegal drain on the state treasury, Missouri's attorney general said Monday in announcing plans to sue the federal government.

Missouri stands to lose $400 million over the next five years, said Attorney General Jay Nixon, including an estimated $20 million it must pay to Washington later this month.

Missouri joins California as states that plan to challenge the costs of the new Medicare Part D program, which began Jan. 1. Kentucky and Texas may also join the fray, Nixon said.

"Not only has this federal plan left many Missouri seniors without needed medication and with questions, it's saddled Missouri taxpayers with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs," Nixon said.

Implementing the new program has been a logistical ordeal, with tens of thousands of elderly subscribers nationwide unable to obtain medicine promised by the government. As a result, about two dozen states, including Missouri, have intervened to cover the costs of discounted drugs.

Many of those caught in the bind are seniors and people with disabilities who previously received reduced-cost drugs through Medicaid, the federal health-care plan for the poor. Without their knowledge, the new program assigned a large number of so-called "dual eligibles" to Medicare.

Maneuvering through the new rules has been "a nightmare" not only for drug recipients but also for pharmacists, said Steve Hollis, manager of community services for the Boone County health department.

Nixon called the requirement that states funnel savings from Medicare Part D back to the federal government one that "infringes on state sovereignty" and requires states to pay a tax to the federal government.

He was joined Monday by state Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, a member of the House Senior Citizen Advocacy Committee.

"Some might say this is the same thing Boston tea parties are made of," Baker said.

The Democratic attorney general, who intends to oppose Republican Gov. Matt Blunt in 2008, emphasized the bipartisan concern among states.

California, Kentucky and Texas are led by Republican governors, with California and Kentucky having Democratic attorney generals.

"We expect other states to follow," said Nixon.

The lawsuit will be filed directly with the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks, Nixon said.

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