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December 29, 2011

Towards the end of each year, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) holds a Winter Meeting for Attorneys General from across the country to gather and discuss pressing state legal issues and potential solutions.  This year’s meeting was held a few weeks ago in San Antonio and, as NAAG President, I led a packed and very productive agenda.

Attorneys General from 33 states and territories attended, and the theme of this year’s meeting was "Effective Strategies for Serving Constituents: New Realities, New Directions."  The meeting focused on the evolving needs of our constituents, and the importance of developing strategies that keep up with our changing times.

We covered issues ranging from how to fight human trafficking and gang violence, to using new technology to protect kids online.  These are sobering subjects that affect the most vulnerable among us.  We heard from an impressive array of experts on several panels and the Attorneys General shared their own expertise as well. I’ll keep you updated on our progress throughout my term as NAAG President.

Fighting to protect your telephone privacy!

Many thanks to Congress for pulling the plug on the robo-call bill!  Upon my return from the NAAG meeting, I joined 53 other attorneys general in asking Congress to oppose the “Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011.”  This new proposal was being considered in the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is the first step in the legislative process, and would have allowed “robo-calls” to cell phones.  Supporters of this proposal included banks, credit card companies, credit reporting agencies and the debt collection industry.

My fellow Attorneys General and I opposed this legislation because it goes too far.  It would have forced consumers to pay per-minute charges associated with telemarketing calls. The majority of consumers don’t have the pricier plans with unlimited minutes.  A law like this would be particularly harmful to those who pay by the minute or have a limited number of minutes available, especially when unwanted calls and messages push a consumer’s usage over their allotted minutes.

‪What’s worse, since businesses frequently have outdated contact information, consumers would have likely received and paid for repeated robo-calls to their cell phones regarding accounts that are not even their own.  And, the proposed legislation would have made it more difficult for state attorneys general to enforce stricter laws against robo-calls to mobile phones.

‪Washington state maintains strong protections against unwanted robo-calls from businesses and those protections were threatened by the federal bill. Thankfully, that threat is now gone.

Nation’s highest court will hear health care lawsuit

‪On November 14, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the multi-state lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law, setting aside a remarkable five and a half hours for oral argument. Having granted review, the Court then set the argument for three days during the last week in March.

‪As you may recall, in September, the petition by the 26 states, along with a parallel petition from the National Federation of Independent Businesses and two individual plaintiffs, asked the nation’s highest court to consider whether the health care law’s mandate that every American buy government-approved health care or face a fine exceeds Congress’ powers under the Constitution, and whether the mandate can be severed from the rest of the law.

‪By agreeing to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the serious questions posed about the limits of federal power.  I’m especially pleased the Court decided to hear the case during its current term, which should allow for a ruling sometime before June 30, 2012. 

A great honor received – the Pathbreaker Award

A few weeks ago, I received Shared Hope International’s U.S. Pathbreaker Award.    Shared Hope International is the organization founded by former Congresswoman Linda Smith, which has been dedicated for over a decade to rescuing and restoring victims of human trafficking across the globe.

As both Attorney General and a citizen of our great state, I’m inspired by the tireless work of Shared Hope to rescue victims of human trafficking, and I’m grateful to legislators who have worked to make our state a leader in the global fight to end this tragedy. 

All of these efforts have motivated me to use my position as NAAG President to bring this issue to the attention of millions more Americans through my 2012 Presidential Initiative, “Pillars of Hope:  Attorneys General United Against Human Trafficking.” Receiving the U.S. Pathbreaker Award will always be a highlight of my year as NAAG President.

‪AGO’s Medicaid Fraud Unit once again recovers millions for Washington

I’m very proud to report that attorneys in our Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, working with the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units and their federal counterparts, have once again helped recover millions of dollars for Washington state.  In November, we joined with 42 other states and the federal government in reaching an agreement with Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. (Merck) to settle civil and criminal allegations that Merck marketed Vioxx for unapproved uses.

‪Vioxx was approved by the FDA in 1999 for the treatment of osteoarthritis, acute pain and other conditions.  In 2004, Merck voluntarily withdrew Vioxx from the market worldwide, citing an increase in the incidence of heart problems in patients taking the drug.  We believe Merck marketed Vioxx for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis before the FDA approved the drug for that use, and promoted the cardiovascular safety of Vioxx with inaccurate, misleading and inconsistent claims.

‪Attorneys in my office alleged that Merck’s false representations about Vioxx misled the state’s Medicaid program into spending more on the drug than it otherwise would have, and that doctors wrote prescriptions they would not have otherwise.

‪This settlement brings $1.2 million to the state’s Medicaid program, and $2.3 million will be deposited in the general fund.  The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit recovered more than $27 million in the fiscal year that concluded in June.

‪Looking ahead

The 2012 Legislative Session begins on January 9, so stayed tuned!  ‪Meanwhile, best wishes to you and yours for a safe and very happy New Year!

‪Sincerely,

Rob McKenna
Attorney General


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