In a ruling heard from Maine to Hawaii, a federal judge on Monday (2/25) gave a boost to states looking to curb rising prescription drug costs. More specifically, U.S District Judge Ricardo Urbina said in a 30-page decision Maine could continue with a project which offers prescription drugs to poor people, shutting down for the moment a challenge from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) .
PhRMA officials say they will appeal the court's decision.
The decision gives states the "green light" to keep moving ahead on plans to cut down prescription drug costs, says Maine Human Services Commissioner Kevin Concannon, a defendant in the case along with U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Chief Tommy Thompson.
"There is pent-up interest" in the Maine program, dubbed Healthy Maine, Concannon says. "Virtually all states are struggling with budget challenges, which makes decisions like this one even more interesting."
Hawaii, Washington State and Vermont are among those pursuing Maine-like measures. Concannon says the court's decision will spur lawmakers in those states and others to take action.
Health analysts say even more states may follow the Maine example. South Carolina, New Hampshire, Maryland, Connecticut and New Mexico all took some type of action this year to enact a Healthy Maine look-alike, says Dick Cauchi of the National Conference of State Legislatures .
"The court's decision is ... perhaps one more encouragement to legislators interested in prescription drugs to continue to (craft) state solutions," Cauchi says.
Hawaii Rep. Roy Takumi, who says Monday's court decision is "great news," is co-sponsoring a Maine-like measure known as Healthy Hawaii. "We're not very original here, so we borrowed the name," Takumi says. The measure was recently okayed by a House panel and awaits action in the full House and Senate.
"Clearly the court decision helps us because there are questions being raised, not the least by PhRMA, about the possibility of a lawsuit. At a minimum, I can tell my colleagues the district court has sided with the state of Maine," he says.
California lawmakers have also had their eyes on what's happening in Maine. "We have been watching the court case... and it's reasonable to expect other states to follow suit," says Michael Ashcraft, legislative aide to Senator Jackie Speier , a lawmaker who has been active on the prescription drug program front.
The Maine decision comes on the heels of court decisions that favor state prescription drug programs in Florida and Michigan over the pharmaceutical industry.
Michigan health officials, buoyed by the Maine decision, say momentum is shifting to the states on the issue of prescription drugs.
"We're very pleased to see the decision out of Maine," says Geralyn Lasher, communications director of Michigan's Department of Community Health. "Courts are saying states have a right to explore and implement prescription drug programs. It's not a situation where whatever the lobbyists want, the lobbyists get," she says.