Mills touts savings on Medicare, prescription benefits

Sen. Fred Mills, in gray suit at right, watches as Gov. John Bel Edwards signs Senate Bill 41 into law Thursday as the legislative session drew to a close.

With another legislative session done and in the books, solons have made their way back home to their districts as the Edwards administration goes about the business of enacting all of the laws that were passed.

Unlike last year’s special session marathon, the 2019 legislative session was fairly concise and uneventful. Aside from Louisiana’s version of an anti-abortion law that, along with almost a dozen others, seems tailor-made for the U.S. Supreme Court, most of the legislation passed touches more on the processes that control government and spending rather than drawing hardline stances on social issues.

For Sen. Fred Mills of Parks, this sort of inside baseball legislation is second nature. A pharmacist by trade, Mills has been at the forefront of some of the state’s health and medicine legislation, including last year’s medical marijuana law. This session, he had a chance to hone existing legislation to make some processes more efficient and, in the long run, more cost effective.

The Daily Iberian caught up with Mills after the session went sine die to ask his impressions.

What do you think was your biggest win?

It’s technical, but this bill 239 could be a huge savings for the people of Louisiana. Being a pharmacist, I’ve been exposed to a lot of things that others might not notice. In West Virginia, I saw where the state changed the way it administrates Medicare. Under the Jindal administration, a lot of administration was outsourced. For pharmacy, however, West Virginia did something unique. They realized they were spending too much on administrative costs paying managed care companies. As a legislature, you have the power to carve those costs back in. Under outsourcing, the state’s per claim cost was $6. Now it will be about a $1. In the first year, West Virginia saved $55 milion. With 1.8 million prescriptions a year through Medicaid in the state, imagine how much we will save.

Are there any other changes on the health and medicine side?

Senate Bill 41 is basically is a very consumer-oriented bill. It allows for a lot more oversight of prescription benefit managers, so people will get a lot more benefit from prescription drug programs. The pharmaceutical industry flew in lobbyists from all over. If this becomes law in Louisiana, it is only a matter of time before it becomes law in the other 49 states.

What highlights were there for local governments?

I continuously read SCR 14, for cities like St. Martinville. Through the Legislative Auditor’s office, the goal is to put a training program together for incoming officials on what they are required to do. They’ll have access to an orientation, like a 101 class on government. That one, while we were going through the process, we had people say, “I need that in my city.” Senate Bill 36 is important for Iberia Medical Center and public hospitals in small cities. Basically, it outlaws freestanding emergency rooms from locating in little towns and cities. Right now, private companies can cherry pick the programs they offer, keeping only the lucrative ones and not offering the other services full hospitals do. For example, it would have been real easy for a company to put a free-standing ER on the border between Lafayette and New Iberia, but now it has to be part of a hospital operation.

How was the overall mood this session?

It looked like everything seems to be settling down. When I was on the Senate Finance Committee, everything was pretty divisive over the last couple of years. Working through this session, it looked like everyone is on the same page with the financial position and the revenue stream coming together. It didn’t seem that the sky was falling like in past years. You can sense when there is a big problem, but I didn’t see that this year. When we looked at where money was being spent in the budget, there was more commonality. It passed unanimously, or with one negative vote. We’re starting to see some compromises. It’s easy to take a position and hold to it, but it’s harder to build a coalition, and that is what we are seeing more of.

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