July 3, 2002 at 5:10 PM EST - Updated July 3 at 4:15 PM
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A coalition of interest groups is planning to circulate petitions to force the Legislature to pass a prescription-drug discount program for the uninsured or put it to a statewide vote in 2003.
If the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs files petitions containing 100,626 valid signatures with the secretary of state, the General Assembly would have four months to pass an Ohio Prescription Drug Fair Pricing Act in next year's legislative session.
If lawmakers fail to act, the coalition would have 90 days to collect signatures to put the proposed law directly on the November 2003 ballot.
A prescription-drug discount plan for senior citizens and disabled individuals was part of a budget-balancing bill enacted in June, but Democrats and the coalition said it was inadequate.
Sen. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, who sponsored a prescription-drug discount bill that went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature, called the program favored by Gov. Bob Taft a "sham."
Hagan said the Taft administration's plan, which is expected to be implemented early next year, would save Ohioans little more than they could already save with shopping around or coupons.
The program, to be administered by the Ohio Department of Aging, will allow Golden Buckeye Card holders to get discounts arranged by a private pharmacy benefits manager to be hired by the department.
The coalition intends to push Hagan's proposal, which would give the state the authority to make bulk purchases of drugs at deep discounts.
He said an estimated 2.2 million uninsured Ohioans would be eligible for savings of up to 50 percent on their prescriptions.
The Taft administration said the Hagan bill was too close to a Maine law that is under challenge.
The coalition includes Ohio AARP, the Ohio AFL-CIO, Ohio Council of Churches, Ohio Nurses' Association, Ohio Public Interest Research Group and the Ohio United Way.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)