AUSTIN — When the currency is weak, the currency matters.
That’s the message that Gov.
Greg Abbott, a Republican, delivered to the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit manager on Thursday, as the industry grappled with a weak dollar, the latest setback for the state’s pharmacy benefit managers and their customers.
Abbott said he is considering a request to waive the cost of purchasing a drug for his state and has asked the Department of Insurance to help make the request, according to a release from his office.
It was not immediately clear whether Abbott’s request would require an exemption from federal requirements for insurers that have opted not to offer discounts to pharmacy benefit plans.
In Texas, where Abbott has called the state health insurance program a “job creator,” the decision to waive discounts from pharmacy benefit plan premiums is a key part of his legislative agenda.
In the state of nearly 25 million, more than $30 billion of state revenue comes from pharmacy benefits, which have helped fund many of the state and local governments that rely on them to fill vital health care needs.
The state is on pace to lose nearly $500 million from its health care spending by 2023.
Abbott’s move is part of a broader effort to cut costs for health care providers and to ensure that more people get access to affordable, high-quality care.
Abbott has said the state will not have to raise taxes in order to cover the cost.
His plan calls for a 2.5 percent surcharge on state gasoline taxes and a 1.5-percent surcharge for diesel fuel and electric vehicles, but did not provide an estimated dollar amount for either.
On Thursday, Abbott told the state that it’s “very possible” that the cost savings could be “significant,” according to the release from Abbott’s office.
Abbott did not mention the surcharge by name.
The governor’s statement, though, drew immediate criticism from industry officials.
“The governor’s statements today are further evidence of his lack of concern for Texas taxpayers and their future health care coverage,” said Bob Hasegawa, the CEO of the Texas Pharmacists Association.
Hasegarawa said Abbott’s actions are “unprecedented” and “insulting” to the thousands of Texas pharmacists who rely on the pharmacy benefit system to provide affordable health care to their community.
“These are not just the folks who make sure we can afford health care for our patients, these are the folks that make sure that our families are getting the medical care they need,” Hasegrawa said.
The Texas Pharmacy Association, which represents about 800,000 of the nation’1,800 drugstores, said Abbott should be “saddened” that his plan is “failing to create jobs and raise wages.”
The association also noted that pharmacy benefit programs are also responsible for providing emergency medical care to about 40 percent of the population in the state, including some who may be in the emergency room.
Abbott, who is in his third term, has faced intense scrutiny from some members of the medical profession for not providing more money for the cost-sharing reduction payments that are scheduled to expire in 2018.
In January, Abbott proposed a $500-per-person rebate for most Texas residents and about $100 for Texans earning more than about $85,000 a year.
Abbott also proposed extending the Medicare Advantage plan for about 5,000 seniors who rely exclusively on the drug benefit.
Abbott had said in January that he would support extending those programs.
On Wednesday, Abbott released a statement that said the plan would save Texas the $50 billion it would have to spend to reduce prescription drug costs.
“If the Abbott administration can’t find a way to balance the budget on the backs of the citizens of Texas, I will work with the legislature to provide a solution that protects the safety of Texans,” Abbott said in the statement.
The statement was in response to a request for comment from the state Department of Finance and Budget.
Abbott spokeswoman Jennifer Kollmeier said the governor is “committed to lowering health care costs in Texas.”
The statement said Abbott is “exploring other options to extend Medicare Advantage benefits to millions of seniors” and that Abbott is exploring ways to increase the cost share for prescription drug coverage for those seniors, but she declined to say whether Abbott would accept the waiver requests.
The Abbott administration also is weighing options to expand the number of pharmacy benefit beneficiaries to about 6.5 million, a decision that has been a focus of the governor’s political rivals, including former Gov.
In addition to seeking to provide higher costs to the health care system, the Abbott agenda includes efforts to extend Medicaid coverage to low-income people, create a statewide online tax information service and establish a public-private partnership to help people get insurance coverage.
Abbott announced the plans at a news conference in Austin.
The release from the governor was released the same day the White House released a memo that highlighted the administration