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Veto From Governor Kills PA's Contentious Opioid-Prescribing Bill

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) - Governor Tom Wolf has vetoed a bill that would have created a drug formulary for the state workers' compensation program.

Basically, that's a list of drugs deemed acceptable for doctors to prescribe to workers injured on the job. Employers would have been able to block a prescription if they suspected it was inappropriate.

The governor's decision has been met with swift condemnation from Republican leaders.

The GOP has touted the drug formulary as a way to prevent opioid abuse, plus reduce the cost of workers' compensation.

"It's an evidence-based formulary developed by a panel of doctors," said House Republican Spokesman Steve Miskin. "It's peer-reviewed, so it's not like it's just done."

But a lot of Democrats and unions have long disliked it.

"I think the natural effect of the formulary is that it will allow for more money to flow back to insurers at the expense of treatments for workers," Wolf Spokesman JJ Abbott said.

The day before his veto deadline, Wolf issued a surprise executive order that will do a number of the same things as the bill, but subs out the formulary for prescribing guidelines.

Abbott said the order targets opioid abuse prevention without the risk of impeding care for patients.

The administration is also urging the GOP-controlled legislature to pass two bills still sitting before committees: one that would codify the administration's prescribing guidelines into law, and another that would limit opioid prescriptions to seven days, barring exceptional circumstances.

Republicans, however, pushed back on Wolf's order almost immediately, calling it a vague substitute for tangible reform

House GOP Spokesman Steve Miskin also said regulating drugs via executive order gives Wolf too much power, and accused him of caving to unions and law firms that oppose the bill.

"He's trying to not create a law, and that is wrong," Miskin said. "Especially after the legislature acted."

Also at-issue: proponents of the formulary say it would have stopped the practice of workers' compensation lawyers referring people to specific doctors, who fill overly-expensive prescriptions using pharmacies tied to the attorneys.

Wolf recently attended a campaign briefing at a firm that, according to reporting from the Philadelphia Inquirer, had engaged in such a practice.

Abbott noted, the governor's executive order seeks to regulate prices of the expensive drugs in those cases.