- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A new proposal for controlling mental-health drug costs in the Medicaid program in Kansas advanced in the Legislature on Monday, weeks after the Republican-controlled Senate rejected another plan from GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.

The Senate gave first-round approval to a bill requiring a review of Medicaid’s mental health prescriptions. The measure also creates an advisory committee to draft guidelines on prescriptions for 368,000 needy and disabled residents whose health care is covered by the $3 billion-a-year program.

Senators expected to take a final vote Tuesday that would determine whether the measure passes and goes to the House. But the bill had bipartisan support and arose from discussions between state officials and mental health advocates after a plan giving Brownback’s administration more sweeping authority to control mental health prescriptions failed in late February.

The latest proposal would replace a 2002 law blocking restrictions in Medicaid on prescriptions for treating mental illnesses, such as a list of preferred drugs or a requirement to have the program sign off before a prescription is made.

Mental health advocates saw the law as ensuring that Medicaid participants aren’t denied needed drugs. But some legislators and other state officials contend drugs are being overprescribed or used improperly, particularly with children and poor, elderly nursing home residents.

“The state has no ability to go in and restrict that,” Shawn Sullivan, the governor’s budget director, said after the Senate’s debate.

The effort to limit drug costs also is part of a larger plan from Brownback for closing a budget shortfall projected at nearly $600 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment estimates annual savings of more than $8 million under the new proposal.

The bill that failed last month would have repealed the 2002 law, and critics said it gave too much power to KDHE’s secretary and the three private health insurance companies that now manage Medicaid for the state. Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat who voted against the first measure, said their authority would have been “unfettered.”

“This at least has some constraints, some guard rails, more eyes on it,” Kelly said of the new proposal.

Under the latest proposal, the health department’s secretary could temporarily require prior-authorization for prescriptions of new drugs until an existing, seven-member board on drug policies reviewed them. The same board would be required to review the use of all mental health drugs by July 1, 2016.

The new advisory committee would include psychiatrists and pharmacists and would draft guidelines on the use of mental health drugs.

“I think this is a good compromise,” said Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican who opposed the first proposal.

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Online:

New proposal on mental health drugs: https://bit.ly/1xsLl4H .

Original proposal: https://bit.ly/18mZDsi

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .


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