Appeals Court To Rule on Maine Rx Program

In the latest round of legal sparring between prescription drug makers and state officials, Maine was back in the courtroom Monday in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, fighting to keep a new prescription drug program alive. In the opposite corner, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) maintained that the state's program is unconstitutional.

The first-of-its-kind program, known as Maine Rx , was created last May and seeks to provide low-cost prescription drugs for uninsured residents who aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or the state's Drugs for the Elderly and Disabled Program.

Maine Rx has been controversial from the start because of its attempt to control prices. Last June, PhRMA president Alan Holmer called the program a "bad idea" and said efforts by other states to design similar plans would hurt patients and the economy. "The Maine law is anti-patient, anti-innovation, anti-business, and we believe unconstitutional," he said.

PhRMA challenged the law last August and asked for an injunction to block the state from moving ahead with the law, until a ruling was reached on the constitutionality of the program. U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby subsequently enjoined the Maine law on October 26.

Maine officials have not backed down from the industry's challenge, as demonstrated by the appeal of Hornby's decision and a December 15 announcement from Dept. of Human Services Commissioner Kevin Concannon that the state would delay--but not halt--the start of Maine Rx. "The federal district court injunction has hampered our efforts ... [but] I am confident that this approach of delaying the start of the program... is both the most prudent and effective step as we await the federal court decision on our appeal," he said.

Following the March 5 hearing, both sides expressed confidence about the eventual outcome, expected in about three months.

PhRMA's assistant general counsel Marjorie Powell says the association "has a very strong case, demonstrated by the initial court ruling for the temporary injunction. We continue to be confident the courts will support our position that Maine Rx violates federal Medicaid law... and uses Medicaid patients as hostages."

Chuck Dow, spokesperson for Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe says "only one party to this lawsuit has a gun to the heads of Maine people... Our people left [the courtroom] with the impression that the court really understood the issues and that's the best you can hope for."