State House wrap-up: Drug discount bill OKd

The Senate, by an emphatic 24-0 vote, passed a drug discount and rebate program Thursday for people without health insurance.

The “New Hampshire Rx Advantage Program” echoes a similar rebate program offered by Medicaid that allows the state Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate pharmaceutical prices. Pharmacists would sell the drugs at the discount and then receive a rebate from the state.

The program was attached as an amendment to a study committee spearheaded by business groups on the cost factors driving health care. The Senate passed versions of the measure in previous sessions, but it never made it through the House when it was dominated by Republicans. The bill now is in the Senate Finance Committee before it is sent to the House.

In other action, the Senate:

• Passed a bill requiring that oil companies offering pre-pay programs for heating oil make a commitment to buy oil future options of up to 75 percent of the price paid, as opposed to just requiring that they get bonding or credit. It’s the same practice that many oil suppliers follow anyway, and should mollify their concerns, supporters of the measure said. The bill is the result of the recent shutdown of Rumford Energy, a Concord firm, which went bankrupt and left leaving empty the tanks and the bank accounts of many who paid for their oil in advance.
• Passed a bill that would give the Elliot Hospital an expedited hearing by the Certificate of Need Board to open an emergency care facility in Londonderry. According to Sen. Bob Clegg, R-Hudson, the hospital was led to believe it would face no obstacles in its plan, but was told a hearing was required after Catholic Medical Center and other local rivals intervened in the process and submit its proposal in August. Opponents said the legislature shouldn’t be interfering with the process, especially when they didn’t know what other projects would have to wait because of it.
• Tabled a bill that would provide $2.1 million in milk supports. Unlike a similar bill in the House, the measure would not have imposed a 2.5-cent tax on a gallon of milk, but it was held up until the Senate knew how much surplus money was in the budget.
• Passed bills requiring the posting of rules concerning independent contractors and raising the penalties and enforcement for those who violate them. While the posting bill goes to the governor, the fine and enforcement bills are amended and have to go back to the House for their approval.
• Killed a bill that would force employers to pay workers for a minimum of three hours of work (as opposed to two hours as now required) if they are called into work. While supporters said the rising price of gas necessitates the change, opponents said it would hurt the ski industry, which often calls up people or sends them home early because of the weather. – BOB SANDERS

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