California officials who oversee the spending of billions of dollars in California's Medicaid prescription drug program failed to disclose free flights, hotel rooms and meals funded by pharmaceutical companies. One of the officials, the chief of the pharmacy division at California's Department of Health Care Services, helps decide which drugs will be among the $8.5 billion worth of medication that California will dispense to low income people. Pharmaceutical companies funneled money for the officials' trips through several non-profit business groups that exist solely for the purpose of funding meetings and conferences. The groups raise money by charging drug company executives who do business with Medicaid programs up to $2,000 in registration fees. The groups have raised about $1.8 million from corporate executives since 2005, and spent the money on travel, lodging and entertainment for California's Medicaid pharmacy directors. Under Medi-Cal policy, state officials are prohibited from accepting gifts worth over $320 from any firm, subsidiary or person that "has financial dealings with the department," and are supposed to report the trips as gifts. After the investigative journism group California Watch revealed the gifts, a Medi-Cal spokesman confirmed that pharmacy officials had taken about a dozen trips since 2006, acknowledged that they should have been reported as gifts and said the omissions would be corrected.
By Anne Landman on March 01, 2010