Gov. Sam Brownback signs 'Step Therapy' bill into Kansas law

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -

Gov. Sam Brownback signed the "Step Therapy" bill into law Monday.

While it's expected to save the state $11 million a year, mental health advocates believe this will end up costing the state more in the long run.

For Emily, who works in Kansas City, Kansas, she suffers from bipolar disorder and had to try different medications until she could find a prescription that works for her.

"It's frustrating to have to try several drugs before you find one that works," explained Emily, who did not want to reveal her identity due to the sensitive nature of her diagnosis.

However, now because of the new "step therapy" law, changing prescriptions may not be up to the doctor and patient on Medicaid.

Emily said, "To be told I have to stop taking this medication and go on one that doesn't work or one that I can't take is frustrating and infuriating."

Her doctor first prescribed a drug that cost Emily $12 a month out of pocket, but that ruined her kidneys. Now, Emily takes a prescription that costs about $130 a month.

The new "step therapy" law would allow insurers to change prescriptions to a cheaper alternative. Kansas was one of only a handful of states that didn't use preferred drug lists or step therapy for mental health drugs. Supporters say it will mean substantial savings for the state that was built into the budget bill.

Still, Susan Crane Lewis, who runs Mental Health America of the Heartland, thinks the opposite will happen. "We are going to spend so much more than we ever save."

Crane Lewis testified against the bill in March and said other states who have passed bills like this call it "Fail First."

"But you have to try it, and if you fail on it, then we'll let you have the green pill, but we have to put you on the blue pill first," she explained.

The bill, she added, was only passed in a House conference committee.

In Ohio, Crane Lewis said, medical costs of adverse health effects from lapses in care cost three times what they saved on medications.

That doesn't include the cost to patients' lives. Emily said, "The quality of life, the ability to function in jobs or just out in society would be hampered."

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Shannon Halligan can be reached at shannon.halligan@kshb.com.

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