Lawmakers Press Solicitor General on Maine Rx Case

By: - November 12, 2001 12:00 am

An eight-state coalition wants the U.S. Solicitor General to support Maine in a controversial prescription drug case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The group, known as the Northeast Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, wants the federal government’s chief lawyer to weigh in heavily on behalf of states trying to curb prescription costs.

The case in question is Maine Rx , a program created in May 2000 to provide 325,000 elderly and near-poor state residents discount drug prices. It is the nation’s most controversial plan because of its use of standby price controls.

The U.S. drug industry has sued Maine in an effort to block the program.

The high court last month asked U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, a Bush Administration appointee, how the government should proceed. It is not uncommon for the Court to seek such views, says spokesperson Charles Miller.

New York Sen. John Marchi, a Republican who backs price controls on prescription drugs, wants state lawmakers to press Olson to argue for states’ rights in the case. He took his argument to the Northeast Legislative Association on Oct. 19, and legislators from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont okayed his resolution.

Marchi, who is 80 years old, was inspired to introduce the resolution because he gets constant complaints from constituents about rising prescription drug prices, says aide David Jaffe.

The association says “experimentation on prescription drug affordability has barely begun in other states and has been frustrated in Maine by this litigation.”

The resolution cites a First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last July which says in part: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory.”

Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, says state lawmakers are entitled to have an opinion on the matter. “But with all due respect, we believe they’re dead wrong,” he says.

PhRMA says the Maine program is unconstitutional because it usurps the federal power to regulate interstate commerce, and that it also violates federal Medicaid law.

Olson is expected to make known his views by Dec. 7.

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