Fillibuster Successfully Blocks Prescription Drug Database
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri senator who is a family physician succeeded Thursday in scuttling legislation that would have authorized a government database to track people’s prescription drug purchases.
Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf and his allies led an eight-hour filibuster against the legislation, soliciting supportive emails and faxes that they read aloud on the Senate floor. They outlasted other disinterested senators who went home and eventually triumphed over the bill’s remaining backers.
The result is that Missouri will remain one of just two states lacking the authorization for a prescription drug database. It’s possible that lawmakers in New Hampshire, the other state without such a law, could pass such a measure this year.
The government databases are intended to stop “doctor shopping,” in which people get prescriptions from multiple physicians to feed their addictions or sell the medicines on the black market. Although Schaaf said it would be useful as a doctor to know if his patients were visiting other physicians or lying about their medications, he said his professional interests were outweighed by his concerns as a citizen that the measure would infringe on individual liberties.
“This bill causes every citizen to be forced against their will to give up their privacy — their personal information about the controlled substances they are prescribed by their doctor,” said Schaaf, of St. Joseph, whose filibuster was aided by several colleagues.
The legislation died in an odd procedural way. The bill’s Senate supporters withdrew a bill previously passed by the House — against which Schaaf had erected a blockade — then brought up a similar Senate version and capitulated to Schaaf’s demand to attach a referendum clause that would have let voters decide on the prescription database in the November election. Senators also approved various other changes to the bill, reducing the types of drugs that would be tracked and the length of time the information would be kept in the database.
With just 16 of the 34 senators still left in the chamber, the revised measure was given initial approval by a voice vote. Then the Senate quit for the night, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey said the legislation would not be brought back up for a final vote before the session ends May 18.
“They know that the people would never vote for it,” Schaaf said. Smiling at the end of the long day, he declared: “I think we’ve killed it for this year.”
Sen. Kevin Engler, who sponsored the legislation, opposed putting the measure to a public vote. He said none of the other states had done so. Engler left the Senate chamber visibly frustrated.
“It was obvious we weren’t going to get it finalized, so you’re better off cutting your losses and going home,” said Engler, R-Farmington.
Under the Missouri legislation, pharmacies would have submitted to the state database the identities of the doctor prescribing the medicine and the patient receiving it, as well as the drug’s quantity, the date and other details. Information in the database could have been provided to doctors and pharmacists, state regulators and law officers who obtained a subpoena.
“With all of our surrounding states having laws in place, you’ve got a lot of people from out of state coming to Missouri to get OxyContin and lots of dangerous pharmaceuticals that are harmful, if not deadly,” said Dempsey, R-St. Charles.
Schaaf argued that that database could be hacked or leaked, revealing potentially embarrassing information about the medications people take.
As he embarked on his filibuster, Schaaf turned to state Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, for help in talking about the bill. Lager obliged for a while but asked Schaaf how the prescription database infringed on liberties any more than a proposal that would allow police to pull over motorists for not wearing seatbelts. Schaaf, a supporter of stricter seat belt laws, responded that people injured because they fail to wear seatbelts infringe on others’ liberties. Sometimes, their medical bills are covered by the government’s Medicaid health care program or the poor.
Schaaf appeared to dispute the notion that people who abuse prescription drugs similarly infringe on others’ freedoms.
“If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool,” Schaaf said.
Prescription bills are HB1193 and SB710.
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