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Suffolk moves to drop prescription manager

Suffolk County has taken the first step toward dropping the manager of its $70-million employee drug prescription plan because officials say the company did not keep promises to provide $17 million in savings.

Chief Deputy County Executive Dennis Cohen said the union-management committee that oversees the county's self-insured health plan voted unanimously on Friday to revoke its decision to name OptumRx after negotiations stalled on finalizing a contract. Bellone is expected to act on the recommendation this week, aides say.

"We attempted to negotiate a final contract, but couldn't come to an agreement," said Cohen. "We feel they didn't honor the terms of what they had offered in their proposal." Cohen could not specify how far short OptumRx was in meeting savings goals, but described the difference as "substantial."

OptumRx, headquartered in San Diego, was selected from seven firms in a competitive process in January after promising it could take over within 60 days -- even though the company and others during the bidding process indicated it would take three months. OptumRx spokesman David Himmel declined to comment.

The union-management committee recommended that the county extend the contract with Express Scripts Inc. for one year until March 31, 2014; during that period, the county would initiate a new request for proposals. The Express Scripts contract had been extended temporarily because of the impasse with OptumRx.

Cohen said the county expects that Express Scripts will match the savings that OptumRx had promised. If savings fall short, administration officials said county employees could face other health plan cuts to achieve the $17 million in savings.

OptumRx had been scheduled to take over as prescription drug manager on April 1, and to generate significant savings by providing mail-order prescriptions, a service Express Scripts also will provide. Officials originally expected OptumRx to take over May 1, but no final contract was ever signed.

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