States can’t reveal drug costs because federal law makes them secret; Montana governor blames drug lobby, Ky. contractor

When Montana journalists asked Gov. Brian Schweitzer to reveal the prices the state pays for drugs in government health care programs, he said he wanted to tell them, but had to refuse because federal law keeps the information secret because Congress is “bought and paid for” by drug manufacturers. “Congress has created a system so that even the states, which buy tens of millions of dollars worth of these drugs, have no idea what we pay on a per-unit basis,” said Schweitzer, a conservative Democrat with a maverick streak.

“Actually, Schweitzer does know what the state pays — but, before acquiring the information last summer, had to have his chief counsel sign a written agreement not to disclose it publicly,” Mike Dennison of the Billings Gazette reports. “Schweitzer said the drug industry wants to keep secret the rebates it gives to states buying drugs for public programs, because it doesn’t want regular retail customers to know how much more they’re paying for drugs.”

Schweitzer obtained the information last summer when he was trying to compare what the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and disabled was paying for drugs compared to the cost in Canada. Montana news outlets argued that the state open-records law requires him to release “documents in his possession that list public money paid out or received by the state,” Dennison reports. But the governor’s chief legal counsel “said federal law bars disclosure of the information requested by the news organizations, and that federal law pre-empts Montana’s open-records laws.”

Also, “Magellan Medicaid Services, the Virginia-based contractor that negotiates additional drug rebates for the state Medicaid program, also claimed that the rebate information is a trade secret protected from public disclosure,” Dennison reports. MMS, which works for several states including Kentucky, said revealing the information would hamper its ability to compete with other companies doing the work.” It seems to us that if all such information from all states were released, that wouldn’t be a problem.

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