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Proposed drug program for uninsured advances

LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ A legislative committee has embraced a plan to offer unused prescription drugs from nursing homes to uninsured Arkansans through free health clinics.

A draft of the legislation, which would be offered in next year's legislative session, would authorize the state Board of Pharmacy to develop rules for the pilot program, in conjunction with the state Department of Human Services and state Health Department.

Rep. Jodie Mahony, D-El Dorado, who is sponsoring the measure with Sen. Barbara Horn, D-Foreman, said recycling drugs that would otherwise be destroyed could help thousands of Arkansas' working poor who can't afford to pay for prescriptions or insurance covering medicine.

``We think throwing away valuable resources when there's apparently not enough to go around is cavalier and unfeeling, not to mention poor public policy,'' Mahony told the Joint Interim Committee on Health Insurance and Prescription Drugs.

About 20 clinics now offer free medical services at 38 locations around the state to low-income workers who have no insurance and who don't qualify for the state Medicaid or federal Medicare programs. Those who qualify for the services earn less than $9,400 a year for an individual or $19,000 for a family of four.

Though physicians volunteer their services to treat needy patients, ``Medical care without medicine to back it up is not going to do anybody any good,'' said Dr. Paul Wilbur, medical director of the Mountain Home Christian Clinic. ``We could put that medicine to use helping people who need help.''

Charles Morrison, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Charitable Clinics, said the program could potentially help up to 12,000 people monthly.

The proposal is supported by the state Pharmacy Board, consulting pharmacists and the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.

However, Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, who owns a pharmacy company, questioned whether the program would provide sufficient safeguards from outdated and inappropriate medications.

Malone also noted that draft legislation would provide waivers of liability for donors, nursing facilities, drug manufacturers, pharmacists or others participating in the the program.

``If somebody can show is that there's a system that the medication is safe to be reused by rich people, then it's OK for poor people,'' the senator said. ``I don't want us to have a dual system out there, and that's what we're looking at.''

The committee's recommendation sent the proposal to the legislative Public Health, Labor and Welfare committees for further review and development.
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