Capitol City looks to GR for advice

December 2, 2008
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Another Michigan city wants to hear from this city’s “drug czar,” at least in a very generic sense.

Lansing City Council President Brian Jeffries and City Councilwoman Carol Wood told the Lansing State Journal they are looking forward to having representatives from the city of Grand Rapids speak to the board and its bargaining units later this month.

Lansing officials are hoping their counterparts from Grand Rapids can help convince union leaders and council members in the Capitol City that choosing generic prescriptions over brand-name drugs will be a cost-saving move for everyone involved and one that will fill employees’ prescription needs.

At the end of last month, Jeffries and Wood pointed out to council members that Grand Rapids has saved money by encouraging workers and retirees to choose less-costly generic drugs. Grand Rapids City Manager Kurt Kimball confirmed that it had.

“I don’t know the precise percentage of our employees who make use of generic drugs when they have the opportunity, but it has been an increasing percentage. With each percent increase in the use of generic drugs, there’s big dollars to be saved,” he said.

The city has had different drug co-pays for generics and brand names as part of its health insurance for a long time. But as far as Kimball was concerned, the clincher that turned the tide toward generics came when the difference in co-pays between the two was widened.

“When it was $2 for a generic and $4 for a brand, the power of the incentive is different than when it’s $10 for a generic and $20 for a brand. That’s a fairly common differential, I think, elsewhere in the economy and for different businesses in the public and private sectors,” he said.

The respective $10 and $20 co-pays are part of the city’s current health plan.

Lansing is facing about a $2 million shortfall on a budget of nearly $114 million and council members are looking at potential remedies for their deficit headache. Calling on Grand Rapids to make a Capitol City house call creates a positive impression of the city’s management effort. Kimball, though, as usual took that praise in stride.

“Well, it does suggest that maybe we’ve done some things right; we’re more on the cutting edge of what needs to be done. I guess so,” he said.

“But it’s all relative. For every party you find that thinks we’re ahead of the game, you’ll find others who think we’re behind the game. So it’s something that we’re trying to whittle away at in trying to make health care more affordable.”

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