A bill that originally sought to limit how much doctors can charge for dispensing repackaged drugs to workers' compensation patients died after one Senate subcommittee vote, but it got a kiss of life when, moments later, one senator changed his vote and another returned to his seat.
"Never seen that before," said Delmus Ralther, a law enforcement officer waiting to speak on another bill. "They were rushing every other bill through, but they take time to revisit one after the vote? Wow."
The Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee had voted 4-2 to kill SB 668, with Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart; Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; Nan Rich, D-Sunrise; and Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, all voting against it. The "yes" votes were cast by Garrett Richter, R-Naples; and Steve Olerich, R-Gainesville.
But then Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, rushed back to take his seat, and after the vote was reopened, Gaetz voted to keep the bill alive and Garcia reversed his vote.
On Feb. 22, a Senate committee overhauled SB 668, failing to include an elimination of the price differences between repackaged drugs and pharmacy-filled prescriptions, as HB 511 --the House version -- does, and as the insurance industry and business groups want.
Instead, the bill was amended to do the following:
- Roll back workers' comp rates by 2.5 percent, effective July 1, as proposed by Gaetz.
- Require that insurance companies receive $15 credit on any doctor-dispensed drugs that cost more than $25, as proposed by Senate Health Regulation Committee Chairman Garcia.
The business and insurance industries still hope the House version of the bill will prevail. Conrad Johnson, a spokesman for the insurers, said Tuesday, "We believe the figures we've been shown by Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, that dispensing physicians are overcharging the workers' comp system and to cap their profits at the same rate as pharmacies charge, will save $62 million."
Dispensing doctors and lobbyists representing software solutions firm Automated HealthCare Solutions claim the $62 million figure is impossible; that, at best, the savings would be $8 million. In fact, they argue, $8 million will drop further when the 2011 figures come out, with the elimination of Class 2 and Class 3 drugs -- Oxycontin and the like.
Throughout the session, a procession of workers' comp doctors has testified that outcomes are better, employees get back to work faster, and if the physicians have to charge the same rates as pharmacies which can buy-in millions of pills at wholesale rates, they will cease prescribing in their offices. The cost, they say, would be prohibitive if they can't buy repackaged drugs.
Representing AHCS and dispensing doctors, Alia Faraj-Johnson, partner and executive vice president at Ron Sachs Communications Inc., said Tuesday, "What happened today is just a part of the legislative process.
"We believe Senator Garcia's amendment is very solid, that it equalizes the process. It continues to allow doctors to dispense medicine, which is crucial to get them [the patients] back to work faster."
After the vote, Committee Chairman Negron said he could never support the bill, even as amended. "I'm not voting for it under any circumstances," he said.
Meanwhile, SB 668's sponsor Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has vowed to strip the amendments off the bill by the time it goes to a final vote.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.