AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci signed into law a new prescription drug measure Tuesday, celebrating what its advocates say should be lower medicine costs for 275,000 Mainers.

The coming Maine Rx Plus program was crafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that gave the state only a qualified endorsement of its original plan, which was adopted three years ago.

Once calling for open enrollment, the new program specifies a target population of people with incomes at or below 350 percent of the federal poverty level.

Baldacci called the initiative “the next step in our continuing effort” to offer consumer relief from health care costs and praised lawmakers who have been “recognized nationally” for developing landmark legislation.

Maine Rx Plus is designed to provide discounts, pegged by advocates at 15 percent to 60 percent, on prescriptions for individuals with income at or below $31,458 and couples with income not exceeding $42,420.

People with drug expenses amounting to more than 5 percent of their income will also be eligible.

“Maine Rx will help improve access to necessary medications and will also start the process of controlling the rising costs of drugs in Maine over time,” the bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Sharon Treat, D-Farmingdale, said in a statement.

Program participants are to be able to purchase prescription drugs at the same lower costs that are paid by the state Medicaid program known as MaineCare.

The state would also be authorized to seek further discounts by entering into rebate agreements with drug manufacturers.

Acting Commissioner Peter Walsh of the Maine Department of Human Services said Tuesday he believed the new program could be operational before the first of the new year.

Earlier this month, Baldacci signed one bill to require pharmacies to disclose the actual retail price for each prescription purchase and another bill to require pharmacists to dispense generic drugs that have the same therapeutic value as name brands unless doctors specify otherwise.

The latter measure does not apply to MaineCare prescriptions.

Another newly signed law is designed to require prescription drug manufacturers to tell the state how much they spend advertising their products in Maine.

Maine lawmakers are expected to brief other members of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drugs Prices on the Maine Rx legislation at the group’s summer meeting Friday in Concord, N.H.

Baldacci said Tuesday he believed the Maine Rx measure was “something that does address the concerns that were raised at the federal level.”

AP-ES-06-24-03 1200EDT

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