Maine Drug Law Wins Narrow US Supreme Court Victory

May 19, 2003 ( - Proponents of a Maine state law designed to force drug companies to lower prescription drug prices for needy recipients won a narrow legal victory at the US Supreme Court.

>The high court said that drug makers, who had been battling to keep the law from taking effect, had not proven their case – a result that doesn’t give Maine officials the unqualified court endorsement they had been seeking, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The program, called Maine Rx, has been on hold pending the outcome of the court battle.

>In the prescription-drug case, the justices warned that the program might not survive further court challenges. Nonetheless, the ruling was a defeat for drug makers who claimed that Maine’s program violates federal law.

“By no means will our answer to that question finally determine the validity of Maine’s Rx program,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.

>Maine Rx would use the state’s buying power under the federal Medicaid law to cut drug prices by 25% for the working poor, retirees and others who don’t receive health coverage or drug benefits through their jobs.

>Spending on prescription drugs has increased by 15% or more annually in recent years, and more than two dozen states had urged the Supreme Court to uphold Maine’s effort to hold down the escalation. Supporters say it fills the void created by Congressional inaction; lawmakers have tried several times to craft legislation to add prescription-drug coverage to the federal Medicare program for the elderly.

>Labor and retiree groups support the Maine approach. The Bush administration and business groups and conservative legal organizations sided with the drug industry.

>Some justices had suggested in January, when the case was argued, that the dispute be resolved by a lower court or by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicaid. Medicaid, a joint program of the federal government and the states, funds health care for the poor and disabled. The Supreme Court left the door open for either step.

>The case is Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America v. Concannon.