CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation requiring prescriptions for cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine could cost the Public Employees Insurance Agency as much as $4.3 million in additional expenses each year, PEIA executive director Ted Cheatham told legislators Tuesday.
He told the interim Select Committee on PEIA that figure includes $3.7 million to $3.8 million per year for additional office visits, as well as about $500,000 for the costs of the medications, which, as over-the-counter drugs, are currently not covered by PEIA.
"It's not significant," he said of the additional cost. PEIA spends more than $500 million a year for medical claims and prescription drug costs.
Cheatham said afterward the cost estimate is based on the assumption that any legislation making pseudoephedrine available by prescription only would also place it on a list of controlled drugs, which require physician office visits to obtain 30-day prescriptions with no refills permitted.
Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, suggested that would be excessive.
"I'm not sold that every single time someone needs a prescription for Sudafed, their physician is going to mandate they come in for an office visit," she said.
"I think we also need to educate the public that, just like there are generic and name-brand products, there are other products that will treat the symptoms that are over the counter," she added.
Legislators, led by House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, have advocated making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug in order to restrict its use as a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Legislation passed in 2012 to restrict and track over-the-counter purchases of pseudoephedrine to date has not been significantly effective in curbing the epidemic of meth labs in the state.
Also Tuesday, Cheatham said premiums for PEIA retiree coverage will not increase in either 2014 or 2015, but after that, annual rate hikes of 8 to 9 percent will be likely.
He said about $40 million has been put into a PEIA trust fund to stabilize retiree premiums that will be used to offset what otherwise would be higher rate increases in 2016 and years after.
"That's how we smooth it out to 8 to 9 [percent increases] in those first out years," he said.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.