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WASHINGTON Moving rapidly to ward off at least one financial threat to millions of Americans and the state-administered federal health benefit program that supports them, the House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon voted to extend an emergency funding program for cash-strapped state Medicaid programs.
Called back from an August recess by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House passed by a vote of 247-161 a $26.1 billion spending bill to shore up education and health programs for states hit hard by the recession. The measure, already approved last week in the Senate, will move quickly to President Obama, who is expected to immediately sign it into law.
Among its provisions, the bill would extend for six months the enhanced federal medical assistance percentage, or FMAP, as many Americans continue to struggle with job losses and health costs. Without that extension, the FMAP program was due to expire on Dec. 31.
Just two Republicans supported the measure. But it had the backing of both chain and independent pharmacy lobbyists, who said the funding program will provide relief to millions of lower-income and out-of-work Americans and prevent further cuts in pharmacy-centered patient care.
Among the groups praising the spending bill’s passage Tuesday were the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association.
“This enhanced federal funding of state Medicaid programs is important to help prevent additional cuts to pharmacy services and pharmacy access at the state level,” said NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson. “Anything that hinders pharmacy access is counterproductive, because when patients do not take their medications correctly health suffers and long-term healthcare costs rise.”
NCPA acting EVP and CEO Doug Hoey also endorsed the legislation. “States are experiencing severe revenue shortfalls in this troubling economic environment. However, virtually all of the states are constitutionally mandated to balance their budgets, making certain programs like Medicaid targets for cuts,” he noted. “Unfortunately, many state governments reach that goal by dramatically reducing reimbursements to healthcare providers who provide these critical services, which is a penny-wise and pound-foolish policy.
“For independent community pharmacies, already working off of slim profit margins and that tend to serve a high percentage of Medicaid patients in underserved areas; these cuts would not be financially sustainable,” Hoey asserted. “The fact is prescription drug treatment is less expensive than visits to emergency rooms and doctor's offices. But the money saved by cutting reimbursements to pharmacies in the present will be washed away in the future by more costly healthcare options having to be pursued by Medicaid patients.
“The FMAP extension helps to guard against this unfortunate but predictable sequence of events from happening,” added NCPA’s acting chief.
Hoey cited three Democratic lawmakers in particular –– Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader; Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Patty Murray of Washington state –– “for working closely with NCPA throughout this process.”