Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Free Lance Star: VA State Senator Houck Fights PDL for Mental Health Drugs

By Chelyen Davis
The Free-Lance Star

Once again, mental health advocates are fighting against a governor trying to save money on psychotropic medications.

One of Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposed budget amendments would add psychotropic medications--such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications--to the state's "preferred drug list" for Medicaid.

The term "preferred drug list" pretty much means "cheaper drugs." It's a set, limited list of medications that doctors under the program are supposed to prescribe--such as generic versions of brand-name drugs. Any drug not on the list isn't supposed to be prescribed to a patient unless a doctor can show that the patient has already tried a drug on the list with poor results. But mental health advocates argue that when it comes to mental illnesses, those poor results can be as extreme as suicide.

Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, and Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, held a press conference yesterday in Richmond with mental health advocates to say they will oppose that amendment when lawmakers return to Richmond tomorrow to deal with the governor's amendments to bills.

McDonnell isn't the first governor to propose this: Governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner before him also did so. Houck said he fought those proposals as well.

"We've had this same battle, seems like each governor listens to his budget people and fails to really hear the voices of people who advocate or treat mentally ill patients," Houck said.

When Kaine proposed it, it was estimated to save the state $1.5 million a year. McDonnell's version would save about $1 million a year.

McDonnell proposes grandfathering in current Medicaid patients who are receiving psychotropic drugs, so the change wouldn't affect them. But Houck said that's not good enough.

"It's always put in terms of cost savings to use the drugs on the PDL list," he said. "What they fail to realize is the real, tragic results that can come from trying patients on a medication to see if it works. With mental illness, it can have life-ending affects, and that's just not acceptable."

Houck said there aren't that many psychotropic medications out there, and the cheaper ones also tend to be the older, less-effective ones. Newer drugs are more effective but are costlier.

"There's a whole new generation of psychotropic medications," he said. "In fact, the treatment of mental illness has changed over the years because the medications have improved so much."

Fredericksburg Free Lance Star

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