Government

Prescription Drug Bill Divides GOP Donors

By: John Kennedy News Service of Florida | Posted: November 12, 2010 4:05 AM

A veto override planned by Florida’s Republican legislative leaders is driving a wedge between major GOP donors, with business groups and health care giants Wednesday renewing their fight over a prescription drug bill.

Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries of Florida, said he was pleased – but also stunned -- when the legislation (HB 5603) was added to a list of measures vetoed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist that lawmakers want to revive in next week’s special session.

Bishop, who had hailed the bill’s passage last spring as a “huge victory for the business community,” said he followed a simple rule in figuring the vetoed drug bill would remain dead:

Money talks.

“We’re very appreciative that it looks like it’s coming back,” said Bishop, whose organization includes most of the state’s largest corporations and major political donors. “It’s the right thing to do. But we figured that with the kind of money these doctors had given, it was over and done with.”

Among those supporting Crist’s veto in June was Automated Healthcare Solutions, a Miramar company headed by a pair of doctors, Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass, who later gave more than $1 million to political spending committees headed by the incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon.

The company provides software that helps doctors dispense and manage patient prescriptions, a profitable sideline for many doctors. The legislation vetoed by Crist would have imposed new restrictions on doctors’ “repackaging” prescriptions, lowering costs to the state and private companies, but also threatening Automated Healthcare’s services.

Haridopolos and Cannon used the money funneled from the doctors primarily to help Attorney General Bill McCollum in his losing Republican primary fight with Gov.-elect Rick Scott. But the doctors quickly pivoted following the campaign – pouring $735,000 into the Florida Republican Party and another $145,000 to Scott’s spending committee – in an attempt to make nice with the GOP nominee.

Until last week, Automated Healthcare Solutions looked well-positioned with the Capitol’s new power trio – Haridopolos, Cannon and Scott. Also supporting the veto were the Republican-allied Florida Medical Association and Florida Orthopedic Society – and the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a Democratic power base.

Losing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink had sided with AIF and other business groups in backing the legislation, which supporters say will save private companies $34 million in workers’ compensation costs by reducing prescription costs.

Zimmerman, the company’s CEO, says in a statement on the company’s website that its services are designed to “enhance revenue production by allowing physicians to retain profits.”

“I think the doctors thought they had done everything to keep this bill down,” said Ron Book, who represents them in other matters before the Legislature. “I still think that if the Legislature doesn’t want to take up controversial bills in the special session, this bill won’t come up.”

Incoming Rules Chairman Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, hinted Wednesday that the lineup of nine bills and a $9.7 million budget provision for Shands Hospital in Gainesville represented the most that lawmakers may attempt to override next week. But he acknowledged that the entire list may not be taken up – giving some hope to those who want to keep Crist’s veto in place.

“It won’t exceed that original list,” Aubuchon told lawmakers. “But it may not include all the things on that original list.”

The legislation was approved last spring 38-0 in the Senate, and by the House, 120-0. But even Bishop, of AIF, said the toughest provisions of the bill – which limits doctors’ ability to distribute repackaged prescription drugs to injured workers – were added late through his organization’s lobbying.

FMA and other critics said few lawmakers had a good understanding of the bill’s effects.

For his part, Cannon, R-Winter Park, said the legislation was proof that lawmakers were willing to take action – without regard for contributors.

“That bill passed overwhelmingly in both chambers,” Cannon said. “We think it was good policy then, so we think it’s good policy now. It doesn’t really matter to me who supported it or opposed it.”


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