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Don't cave into lobbyists

The drug industry wants to overturn a rule that would save millions

Not content to nurse its wounds after failing to block a low-cost drug formulary for the Oregon Health Plan two years ago, the pharmaceutical industry has girded for battle once more. Once more, it should taste defeat.

At issue is the amount the state spends to subsidize prescription medications for low-income residents covered by the health plan. The list of clinically effective but lower-cost drugs could save the state &

36;12 million a year.

That's not pocket change. And Oregon Health Plan members also would save because their co-payments would be smaller.

The 2001 law establishing the list made it voluntary for participating doctors. So far, the list hasn't had much effect on the state's costs, but supporters say the new rule that took effect May — could change that.

The rule says doctors now must prescribe drugs from the approved list for specific conditions unless they call the Department of Human Services to request an exemption.

— It's hardly surprising that the pharmaceutical industry opposes this approach. The industry sent nearly two dozen lobbyists to Salem to fight the original bill in 2001 and now is pressuring allies in the Legislature to pass House Bill 3624, which would void the May — rule change.

At a time when Oregonians are clamoring for the state to live within its means, it may seem odd that there is any support at all for blocking a rule that could save millions. But that's politics ' especially when big campaign contributors such as pharmaceutical companies are turning up the heat.

Lawmakers should resist this attempt to benefit big business at the expense of state government and low-income people.

Sen. John Minnis, R-Wood Village, who supports overturning the new rule, argues that it violates the intent of the 2001 law, which was designed to be voluntary for physicians. If that's true, fine. Change the law.

Just don't cave in to the lobbyists.

The right decision

The Ashland School District made the right decision when it leased part of the vacant Briscoe Elementary School to the Oregon Child Development Coalition's Migrant Head Start program.

Not only is the community apparently in favor of retaining the old but handsome building in district ownership, but keeping it will bring in revenue and leave the district the option of using Briscoe as a school building in the future ' should district enrollment make that necessary.

In the meantime, the three-year lease will bring in some &

36;109,000 annually. The agreement makes the Migrant Head Start program responsible for the rent, taxes, insurance and maintenance.

The program will occupy seven classrooms, the music building and kitchen for classes beginning in mid-August. Head Start will begin moving in to the old school this week.

Board member Terry Littleton said, People seem happy we've found children to occupy the building. That's right.

In addition, the lease agreement allows the district to help another publicly funded education program that provides a major service to some students who really need it, said board member Chuck Keil.

That's also right. And district officials added that they are willing to explore partnerships with other alternative education programs. We encourage them to do that. That approach benefits the community and the school district.