State senators voted Tuesday to require the state's poorest residents to first try generic drugs to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and mental illness if one is available.
If the generic drugs are not effective, their doctor then could prescribe a name-brand drug.
State spending on drugs for Medicaid recipients has been a hot topic this legislative session, particularly spending on atypical antipsychotic drugs that are used to treat a wide range of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Some research says the drugs are overprescribed, may cause dangerous side effects and, for some patients, are no more effective than cheaper, generic drugs and treatments.
But since 2004, state lawmakers have voted to include a rule in the state budget – called a proviso – allowing physicians to prescribe any atypical antipsychotic drug to Medicaid recipients they choose, even if there's a generic or other drug that costs less that may work just as well. Doctors are not given the same leeway for nearly all other drugs prescribed to Medicaid recipients.
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Mental health advocates have said doctors need the freedom to determine which drugs work best for patients and not have their hands tied by government bureaucracy.
But there's also questions as to whether the makers of the drugs are being honest with physicians. A Spartanburg judge ruled in March that drug maker, Johnson & Johnson, maker of the atypical antipsychotic, Risperdal, engaged in unfair or deceptive acts.