While the feds work to fix a series of technical problems plaguing the new Medicare Part D drug benefit, governors are stepping in to help ensure dual eligibles and other vulnerable beneficiaries have access to prescription drugs. As a result, states are incurring millions of dollars of costs. They shouldn’t have to – by federal law, drug coverage for these patients is now the sole responsibility of CMS and the prescription drug plans. However, governors of both parties are doing the right and necessary thing. Of course, Congress should be the one doing this. But Congress is too distracted to act quickly and the Bush Administration has been adamant in opposing changes to Part D until well after implementation.

The crisis creates a great opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to step in and help make Part D work. As I’ve pointed out before, drug makers have a lot riding on the success of Part D. No, it’s not that they will make more money. In fact, it’s more likely that most brand manufacturers will see lower margins under Medicare. It’s because failure of Part D – whether real or imagined – will undoubtedly lead to more government regulation of the industry and a new push for price controls. And the much-maligned industry needs all the good will it can get.

Pharma manufacturers should act immediately to offer to make states whole for the cost of temporary drug coverage for dual eligibles. Specifically, drug makers should work with the National Governors Association (NGA), National Association of State Medicaid Directors (NASMD), and the HHS Office of the Inspector General (HHS) to create a private trust fund that reimburses states for all of their costs associated will filling the gaps while CMS and the drug plans get things fixed. The trust fund can be set up through a non-profit and be totally neutral as to the drug products being reimbursed. The point is to step in, help make it work, create good will, and avoid further pain and frustration.