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Pass bulk drug purchase bill

The pilot project promises to save the state money on prescriptions

All but forgotten in the rush to balance the state budget is a bill to save the state money by creating a bulk purchasing pool for prescription drugs. The Legislature should pass the measure before it adjourns.

Senate Bill 875 would create an Oregon Prescription Drug Program in the Department of Administrative Services. The pilot program would negotiate bulk purchases of prescription medications at discount prices.

State agencies, local governments and school districts would be eligible to participate on behalf of their employees. In addition, all Oregonians 55 and older with incomes of 185 percent of the poverty level or less would be eligible.

The measure would cost something up front, primarily the salaries of two people to administer the system and negotiate with pharmaceutical suppliers. But it promises to save far more in reduced prescription costs.

The measure has the support of PhRMA, a pharmaceutical industry trade group; Oregon pharmacists; the health-care advocacy group Oregonians for Health Security; and AARP. It also enjoys bipartisan support in the Legislature.

— Ultimately, we would prefer to see private employers included as well. Rising health care costs are hitting businesses very hard.

But this is designed to be a pilot program, and the legislation directs the Department of Administrative Services to report back on the program's performance. If it saves the state money, it can be expanded.

It's important to note that the Legislature is desperate to get out of town after finally balancing the budget. There are many pieces of legislation that simply won't get acted on before the final gavel.

If this is one of them, it won't be the end of the world. But this idea shouldn't be forgotten. If it doesn't pass before lawmakers flee Salem, it should be revisited at the earliest opportunity.

A good compromise

Wednesday's agreement between the county and the American Civil Liberties Union sounds like a good compromise to us.

The county gets to keep more prisoners in the Jackson County Jail without violating a court-ordered population cap of 190, and the prisoners who are in jail get to stop sleeping on the floor.

The cap was the result of a 1987 court ruling that found housing more than 190 prisoners at one time violated the constitution. The county, which releases prisoners weekly to avoid exceeding the cap, had gone to court to overturn it. The ACLU took the opportunity to argue that the county was also violating prisoners' rights by placing mattresses on the floor. The 1987 ruling had prohibited the practice, but that clause had been overlooked for some time.

The good news: More prisoners will stay locked up longer. The bad news: not many more. Sheriff Mike Winters says his staff likely will start releasing prisoners after 230 are behind bars, up from 190 now.

The long-term solution is more jail space. That's unlikely anytime soon, given the condition of state and county finances, although reopening part of the Talent work-release center will help some.

Eventually, the county's inadequate jail space will have to be expanded. Until then, this latest step is a good one.