A person in Australia can expect to pay around $40 for a months supply of Lipitor, the popular cholesterol-lowering medication.

But in West Virginia, that same prescription goes for $100.

The ever-widening gap between drug prices here and elsewhere will be taken up Thursday (May 20) in Morgantown when members of the West Virginia Pharmaceutical Cost Management Council meet at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center. Sessions begin at 1 p.m. and the day will feature workshops from health administrators and outreach professionals, along with a public hearing in the evening.

Thursdays meeting will be the third since Gov. Bob Wise appointed the committee of businessmen and citizens for the goal of seeking lower drug prices for West Virginia, a rapidly aging state not known for a healthy lifestyle.

Wise formed the committee in response to House Bill 4048, the measure to lower drug costs which was passed by lawmakers during this past legislative session.

Lipitor, of course, isnt the only focus of the councils work, said Kevin Outterson, a member of the task force and a WVU international law expert who follows pharmaceutical market trends worldwide. Outterson, in fact, was quoted in a Tuesday article in The New York Times chronicling the brokering of a free trade deal between the U.S. and Australia.

The Bush Administration in that agreement is trying to increase drug prices in Australia, but Outterson, meanwhile, would rather see a focus on reducing prices in the U.S., instead.

And its glaring price difference of Lipitor between here and there, he said, makes for the most telling example of the challenge faced by the West Virginia council.

The question is, �€~Why cant we have it (Lipitor) at that price?Outterson said.Were not the wealthiest state in the country. There needs to be a way to rationalize those prices on patented drugs.

Affordable medicine means a healthy population, he said, and a healthier business climate.

If we could the cost of Lipitor here down to what people are paying in Australia, wed save $3.5 million,he said.And thats just one drug. The budget is tight in the state and at WVU . If we can reduce our drug costs by $20 million, that would go a long way to improving our financial health.

Buying from Canada is a possible short-term strategy,he said,but we shouldnt have to go to Canada to get affordable drugs.

The alternatives?

One possible option which might be discussed is to adopt the Australian pricing system here,he said.Another is to increase the availability of generic drugs. U.S. generic drug prices are very competitive, and should be encouraged.

Thursdays session will be capped by a public hearing at 7:15 p.m., and Outterson said he hopes citizens turn out and take the microphone.

We just want you to come out and tell us what you think,he said.We had a lot of pharmaceutical lobbyists at our last meeting. We want to hear from the public as well.

The agenda:

1:00 p.m.
Housekeeping 1:302:30 p.m.
Manufacturer Prescription Assistance Programs
Brenda Wilmoth, Executive Director Barbour County Senior Center, Inc Pat White, Executive Director _ West Virginia Health Right 2:303:30 p.m.
Phil Schenk, Director Division of Primary Care, Bureau for Public Health Brian Cunningham, Assistant Director _(invited)
West Virginia Primary Care Association 3:303:45
Break 3:454:30 p.m.
Golden Mountaineer/Manufacturer-Medicare Discount Cards
Ann Stottlemyer, Commissioner Bureau of Senior Services Linda Calvert, Director Senior Health Insurance Network (SHINE) 4:304:40
Housekeeping 6:00 p.m.
Sign-up for Public Hearing 6:307:15 p.m.
George Manahan, Outreach Coordinator
RXforWV 7:15
Public Hearing