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Insurance companies, doctors prepare for another battle over drug dispensing

In Florida, patients on workers compensation can receive their prescription medications directly from a doctor instead of going to a pharmacy. On the surface, this might not sound like a huge deal, but the ongoing dispute surrounding this topic is gearing up to be one of the most costly battles of the 2013 legislative session.

On one side are insurance companies and businesses. They say doctors who dispense drugs, and the drug repackaging companies who able to sell medications at marked-up prices, drive up the cost of workers compensation insurance and make doing business in Florida more expensive.

On the other side is Automated HealthCare Solutions, a private company that sells physicians software needed to dispense drugs, the Florida Medical Association and doctors who say that their ability to provide patients with prescription medications at the office improves quality of care and gets people better faster.

In 2011, the Legislature passed a bill that would have reigned in drug repackaging costs, but then Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. Last year, passage of similar legislation seemed imminent but some behind-the-scenes infighting among Republican senators put the skids on the efforts and Automated HealthCare Solutions seemed to have won again.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has vowed to sponsor legislation again this year and says he is confident that the drug repackaging issue can be resolved.

Both sides will likely spend millions hiring lobbyists and experts in hopes of influencing the debate, and the main players also dole out campaign contributions during election season.

Today, we got a small glimpse of what is to come during a meeting of the Three-Member Panel, a committee chaired by Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty that every other year provides a report to state leaders on ways to improve the workers’ compensation system.

This year’s report recommends that the Legislature pass legislation to reduce the disparity in cost between “non-repackaged” drugs sold at local pharmacies and the “repackaged” drugs sold by doctors. The panel also said the state needs to standardize reimbursement practices in order to minimize the disputes that are now swamping state regulators.

If that doesn't happen, the state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation should look into other regulatory options to address these goals, the report said.

National Council on Compensation Insurance, the rating agency that represents insurance companies, said that workers’ compensation rates could decline by 1.1 percent if the state addressed the physician drug dispensing issue.

Representatives from the FMA and NCCI all made their case during today's meeting. But it was Automated HealthCare Solutions’ lobbyist Tom Panza whose jovial, yet biting remarks and criticism of NCCI’s numbers were the biggest indication of what is to come.

“We believe that this is bogus math,” Panza said.