Federal Judge Blocks Government's Discount Pharmacy Card Program for Medicare Recipients

By Janelle Carter Associated Press Writer
Published: Jan 29, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal judge on Wednesday barred the Bush administration from putting in place a plan to offer discount pharmacy cards to Medicare recipients.
In a surprise ruling from the bench, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said it was "mind-boggling" that the government would try to implement the program without having statutory authority.

Medicare administrator Tom Scully said the administration still was "determined to do this" and suggested officials may seek help from Congress.

"This is finally getting through a hurdle in the process," Scully said. "There is no question the administration is going to pursue it legislatively."

Representatives of drug store and pharmacist groups said the decision effectively killed the idea in its current form.

"It's dead in its tracks," said John Rector, a senior vice president for the National Community Pharmacists Association. "I hope they've learned their lesson."

S. Lawrence Kocot of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores said the debate now shifts back to Congress "where a number of creative solutions and viewpoints should be considered."

The administration had promoted the discount cards as integral to its plan to lower prescription drug prices for senior citizens on Medicare.

The plan would have encouraged older people to buy the cards from private companies by giving some cards what amounted to a government seal of approval. After paying a one-time enrollment fee - not more than $25 - people could get discounts of up to 15 percent on some medicines, White House officials have said.

Pharmacists and chain drug stores sued two years ago, arguing that the proposal did not say who must subsidize the lower prices. They also questioned whether federal officials had the power to promote the cards without congressional approval.

Friedman stopped the program from getting under way because of the likelihood that the government did not have that authority. The judge later allowed the government to submit a new proposal.

The administration did that in March, although but critics said it was nothing more than a replica of the earlier plan.

On Wednesday, Friedman agreed, saying it was "deja vu all over again."


On the Net: Medicare program: http://www.medicare.gov/


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