The alliance, which was formed last year by seven health systems and three philanthropic organizations, aims to tamp down drug costs by collaborating on generics.


Health system executives and policymakers alike are looking for ways to get drug prices under control.

The consortium of major health systems aims to tackle cost and shortage challenges by producing its own generics.

The number of participating hospitals has grown to about 750 in the U.S., with more expected to join.

A nonprofit alliance of health systems seeking to rein in drug costs and alleviate shortages has grown significantly in the four months since its launch.

Civica Rx announced Monday that 12 additional health systems, representing about 250 hospitals, have joined the venture as founding members, bringing the total number of participating U.S. hospitals to about 750.

The organization described its growth as momentum, with future growth expected, as policymakers and health system executives nationwide look for ways to wrangle escalating drug costs.

Three philanthropic organizations and seven major health systems—including Trinity Health, Catholic Health Initiatives, HCA Healthcare, Intermountain Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, Providence St. Joseph Health, and SSM Health—founded Civica Rx last September, with a plan to produce generic drugs to stabilize supply and challenge manufacturers that have hiked prices sharply.

With its launch, the organization identified 14 hospital-administered generics as its initial focus. The plan is for members to drive the selection of additional drugs.

The 12 new founding members announced Monday are as follows:

  • Advocate Aurora Health
  • Allegheny Health Network
  • Baptist Health South Florida
  • Franciscan Alliance
  • Memorial Hermann Health System
  • NYU Langone Health
  • Ochsner Health System
  • Sanford Health
  • Spectrum Health
  • St. Luke’s University Health Network
  • Steward Health Care
  • UnityPoint Health

In a statement, Civica Rx CEO Martin VanTrieste expressed excitement and gratitude for the additions.

“Drug shortages have become a national crisis where patient treatments and surgeries are canceled, delayed or suboptimal,” VanTrieste. “We thank these organizations for joining us to make essential generic medicines accessible and affordable in hospitals across the country.”

The three philanthropic organizations that helped found Civica Rx are the Gary and Mary West Foundation, Laura & John Arnold Foundation, and the Peterson Center on Healthcare. The organization is collaborating also with the American Hospital Association’s Center for Health Innovation.



Something Happened to U.S. Drug Costs in the 1990s

International Comparison of Drug Spending

Image result for Something Happened to U.S. Drug Costs in the 1990s

Two decades ago, the costs began rising well beyond that of other nations, and in recent years have shot up again. What can explain it?

There was a time when America approximated other wealthy countries in drug spending. But in the late 1990s, U.S. spending took off. It tripled between 1997 and 2007, according to a study in Health Affairs.

Then a slowdown lasted until about 2013, before spending shot up again. What explains these trends?

By 2015, American annual spending on prescription drugs reached about $1,000 per person and 16.7 percent of overall personal health care spending. The Commonwealth Fund compared that level with that of nine other wealthy nations: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain.

Among those, Switzerland, second to the United States, was only at $783. Sweden was lowest, at $351. (It should be noted that relative to total health spending, American spending on drugs is consistent with that of other countries, reflecting the fact that we spend a lot more on other care, too.)

Several factors could be at play in America’s spending surge. One is the total amount of prescription drugs used. But Americans do not take a lot more drugs than patients in other countries, as studies document.

In fact, when it comes to drugs primary care doctors typically prescribe — including medications for hypertension, high cholesterol, depression, gastrointestinal conditions and pain — a recent study in the journal Health Policy found that Americans use prescription drugs for 12 percent fewer days per year than their counterparts in other wealthy countries.

Another potential explanation is that Americans take more expensive brand-name drugs than cheaper generics relative to their overseas counterparts. This doesn’t hold up either. We use a greater proportion of generic drugs here than most other countries — 84 percent of prescriptions are generic.

Though Americans take a lower proportion of brand-name drugs, the prices of those drugs are a lot higher than in other countries. For many drugs, U.S. prices are twice those found in Canada, for example.

Prices are a lot higher for brand-name drugs in the United States because we lack the widespread policies to limit drug prices that many other countries have.

“Other countries decline to pay for a drug when the price is too high,” said Rachel Sachs, who studies drug pricing and regulation as an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. “The United States has been unwilling to do this.”

For example, except in rare cases, Britain will pay for new drugs only when their effectiveness is high relative to their prices. German regulators may decline to reimburse a new drug at rates higher than those paid for older therapies, if they find that it offers no additional benefit. Some other nations base their prices on those charged in Britain, Germany or other countries, Ms. Sachs added.

That, by and large, explains why we spend so much more on drugs in the United States than elsewhere. But what drove the change in the 1990s? One part of the explanation is that a record number of new drugs emerged in that decade.

In particular, sales of costly new hypertension and cancer drugs took off in the 1990s. The number of drugs with sales that topped $1 billion increased to 52 in 2006 from six in 1997. The combination of few price controls and rapid growth of brand-name drugs increased American per capita pharmaceutical spending.

“The scientific explosion of the 1970s and 1980s that allowed us to isolate the genetic basis of certain diseases opened a lot of therapeutic areas for new drugs,” said Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

He pointed to other factors promoting the growth of drug spending in the 1990s, including increased advertising to physicians and consumers. Regulations on drug ads on TV were relaxed, which led to more advertising. More rapid F.D.A. approvals, fueled by new fees collected from pharmaceutical manufactures that began in 1992, also helped push new drugs to market.

In addition, in the 1990s and through the mid-2000s, coverage for drugs (as well as for other health care) expanded through public programs. Expansions of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program also coincided with increased drug spending. And Medicare adopted a universal prescription drug benefit in 2006. Studies have found that when the potential market for drugs grows, more drugs enter it.

In 2007, U.S. drug spending growth was the slowest since 1974. The slowdown in the mid-2000s can be explained by fewer F.D.A. approvals of blockbuster drugs. Annual F.D.A. approvals of new drugs fell from about 35 in the late 1990s and early 2000s to about 20 per year in 2005-07.

In addition, the patents of many top-selling drugs (like Lipitor) expired, and as American prescription drug use tipped back toward generics, per capita spending leveled off.

The spike starting in 2014 mirrors that of the 1990s. The arrival of expensive specialty drugs for hepatitis C, cystic fibrosis and other conditions fueled spending growth. Many of the new drugs are based on relatively recent advances in science, like the completion of the human genome project.

“Many of the new agents are biologics,” said Peter Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “These drugs have no meaningful competition, and therefore command very high prices.”

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issue brief estimated that 30 percent of the rise in drug spending between 2000 and 2014 could be attributed to price increases or greater use of higher-priced drugs. Coverage expansions of the Affordable Care Act also contributed to increased drug spending. In addition, “there has been a lowering of approval standards,” Dr. Bach said. “So more of these new, expensive drugs are making it to market faster.”

“As in the earlier run-up in drug spending, we’re largely uncritical of the price-value trade-off for drugs in the U.S.,” said Michelle Mello, a health law scholar at Stanford. “Though we pay high prices for some drugs of high value, we also pay high prices for drugs of little value. The U.S. stands virtually alone in this.”

If the principal driver of higher American drug spending is higher pricing on new, blockbuster drugs, what does that bode for the future? “I suspect things will get worse before they get better,” Ms. Sachs said. The push for precision medicine — drugs made for smaller populations, including matching to specific genetic characteristics — may make drugs more effective, therefore harder to live without. That’s a recipe for higher prices.

Democratic politicians have tended to be the ones advocating governmental policies to limit drug prices. But recently the Trump administration announced a Medicare drug pricing plan that seems to reflect growing comfort with how drug prices are established overseas, and there’s new optimism the two sides could work together after the results of the midterms. Although the effectiveness of the plan remains unclear, it is clearly a response to public concern about drug prices and spending.

CVS also recently announced it would devise employer drug plans that don’t include drugs with prices out of line with their effectiveness — something more common in other countries but unheard-of in the United States. Even if these efforts don’t take off rapidly, they are early signs that attitudes might be changing.





Hospitals eye making generics for 20 drugs that they say are overpriced or in short supply|facebook&par=sharebar

Image result for Hospitals eye making generics for 20 drugs that they say are overpriced or in short supply

Several hundred hospitals that plan to form their own generic drug company are eyeing making “about 20” pharmaceutical products whose existing versions either cost too much or are in short supply for no good reason, the CEO of one of those hospitals said Thursday.

Dr. Marc Harrison, chief of Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, during an interview on CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” would not identify the existing drugs that the new company wants to replicate on its own, or have done on a contract basis.

Harrison said, “We think it will be early ’19 before our first drugs come to market.”

And he said the group also is hoping to possibly get additional financing from “philanthropists who are sick of this activity” by drug companies that is “creating shortages and driving prices in an irrational fashion.”

Intermountain is leading the collaboration with several other large hospital groups, Ascension, SSM Health and Trinity Health, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to form a not-for-profit drug company. The groups together represent more than 450 U.S. hospitals.

Harrison said on “Closing Bell” that the project was spurred by feedback by patients who at times were saying “they can’t get ahold of drugs or they’re way too expensive.”

“We’re experiencing that in the hospital as well, and we’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years now,” Harrison said.
“We worked hard to come up with a plan … now is the time to get to work.”

He said that one of the big problems in the pharmaceuticals market today is that some “individuals and groups have gone ahead and gotten sole control over a given drug.”

“They create shortages and drive the prices up, and our patients can’t get ahold of the drugs we need,” Harrison said.

“We as a team will do the opposite,” he said. “We’ll make sure drugs are available in good quantities and reasonable prices.”
Harrison said the members of the consortium will contribute funds to finance the new drug company.

“Over time, the business plan says we’ll get our money back,” he said.

Harrison also said that he expects the new firm to provide just a small fraction of pharmaceutical products that the hospitals have to purchase.

“We expect that the vast majority of drugs we buy will still come in the same channels we have always gotten them,” he said. “We think most pharmacies are doing a great job and drug manufacturers are doing a great job.”

“We’re only interested in those organizations that are creating shortages and driving drug prices up in an irrational fashion,” Harrison said.





Walmart drug program cheaper for many Medicare patients

Grand Opening At A New Wal-Mart Store

Walmart’s $4 generic prescription drug program ends up being cheaper for some Medicare patients than their own health insurance, according to a new study released Monday.

It’s more evidence that patients cannot always rely on their health insurance to get them the lowest prices for their prescription drugs, said Dr. Joseph Ross of the Yale School of Medicine, who led the study.

“Patients were paying more out of pocket when they were using their insurance than when they went to Walmart,” Ross told NBC News.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, documents that Walmart provides a better deal than the government’s health insurance plan for people over 65. And that is bad news for Medicare, because if people don’t take their drugs, whether for cost or for other reasons, they tend to get sicker and then end up costing even more to treat.

“Everyone’s talking about pharmacy costs these days,” Ross said. “We did this study in part because of all the discussion about pharmacy gag rules.”

Pharmacy gag rules prevent pharmacists from telling patients that they could save money on drugs, for instance by not using their health insurance.

Pharmacy benefit managers are the middlemen between drug companies and pharmacies, and some of those companies have agreements forbidding talk of discounts. But some states have also banned pharmacists from giving this information to customers.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 22 states have some kind of gag rule legislation.

One way patients can get around this is to ask, but few people think to do so.

Ross and colleagues decided to see what would happen if Medicare patients just took advantage of Walmart’s program offering $4 generic prescription drugs.

They looked at Walmart’s generic list for drugs commonly used to treat heart conditions, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

“Next, we used Medicare prescription drug plan data from June 2017 to determine beneficiary out-of-pocket costs for the lowest-priced dose of each drug in each plan,” they wrote. They got data on more than 2,000 Medicare prescription drug plans, including Medicare Advantage plans.

Overall, 21 percent of the plans asked patients to pay more out of pocket for the drugs than they would pay if they just got them for $4 at Walmart, the team reported.

Medicare Advantage plans were the most expensive for patients, Ross said. And the higher-tier programs were the worst, he found.

“Twenty percent of the time, at least, we should go to Walmart,” Ross said.

It doesn’t help that Medicare is very complicated. Patients can choose from dozens of different plans, depending on where they live, and it can take a great deal of research to find out which plan is most likely to cover a particular person’s health conditions for the least amount of money.

“Each Medicare drug plan has its own list of covered drugs (called a formulary),” the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services says on its website.

“Many Medicare drug plans place drugs into different ‘tiers’ on their formularies. Drugs in each tier have a different cost. A drug in a lower tier will generally cost you less than a drug in a higher tier.”

Ross said it is time-consuming to compare one Medicare plan to another. But understanding one of the many plans tells people very little about what the others might offer.

“If you have read through the details and material for one plan, you have read through the details and materials for one plan. It’s very hard to compare,” he said.

In addition, any given plan may change the drugs that it covers and their prices throughout the year.

Ross said he studied Walmart because its $4 price for a 30-day supply of a generic drug seemed like the least expensive option, but other retailers also have inexpensive drug plans. Some grocery-based pharmacies even offer free drugs, such as antibiotics.

These offers get customers into the store, and the hope is that they’ll buy something else while they are there.

Ross said no patient should decide on a Medicare plan based solely on whether Walmart offers a better deal on prescriptions.

Switching plans might not be the best idea, because different plans provide different levels of coverage for doctor visits, medical procedures and other health needs.

“What we are showing is there may be some ways to save some money on some drugs by going to Walmart,” Ross said.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 90 percent of prescriptions filled in the U.S. are for generic drugs. Most people get health insurance through an employer, and the typical co-pay for a generic drug for a patient covered by employer-provided health insurance is $11, Kaiser found. For a brand-name drug, the average co-pay is $33.

Walmart is moving aggressively to get a big share of the U.S. health care market. Besides having large pharmacies, stores offer free health screenings and the company has said it intends to expand its locations of retail walk-in health clinics.

Walmart is also negotiating a closer partnership with health insurer Humana, including the possibility of buying it outright, according to CNBC.

The discount retailer’s $4 generic prescriptions beat Medicare’s co-pays 21 percent of the time, a study found.




U.S. Prescription Drug Costs Are a Crime


And just tweaking the system won’t solve the problem.

President Donald Trump has complained that U.S. drug companies are “getting away with murder.” For once the hyperbole is forgivable: It suggests he takes the problem of drug costs seriously and might be willing to do something about it. Unfortunately, his administration’s efforts up to now suggest the opposite.

The White House has proposed tweaks to government health-care programs. Some of these measures are worth trying — they could help at the margin — but tweaks aren’t enough. The underlying problem is drug prices that are indeed murderous: Americans and their insurers often pay many times what people in other developed countries pay for the same medicines. That’s what policy needs to confront.

The administration wants insurers participating in Medicare’s prescription-drug program, for instance, to share more directly with beneficiaries the discounts they arrange with drug companies. Out-of-pocket drug costs for some people on Medicare would be capped, and reimbursement for medicines administered by doctors would be trimmed. In Medicaid, a handful of states would be allowed to decline coverage for certain drugs, increasing their leverage in negotiating discounts.

Such changes could lower drug spending for some Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. But they miss the main point by shifting costs within the health-care system rather pressing down on the costs themselves. Unless this changes, the U.S. will continue to be overcharged for its drugs.

The companies often say that high U.S. prices pay for research into new lifesaving products. Leaving aside why U.S. patients should be asked to shoulder that burden for the entire world, the evidence shows that the argument is false: The premium companies collect in the U.S. market is substantially greater than the amount they spend on research and development.

State legislatures have aimed closer to the mark with efforts to expose the math behind price increases. Vermont, Nevada and California have new lawsrequiring that drug companies provide cost breakdowns to justify big price hikes on popular drugs (including, in Nevada’s case, drugs for diabetes). Several other states are considering doing the same.

Even if these laws stand — they’re being challenged in court — transparency gets you only so far. Pushing prices down will take stronger efforts from the federal government to increase competition.

One good way to do that is to speed the uptake of generics. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, has been pressuring drug makers to stop trying to extend the monopolies they’ve been granted (via FDA approval and patents) for brand-name drugs. But only Congress can forbid those practices, and it has yet to act on bipartisan legislation that would do the job. Trump could show he’s serious about lowering drug prices by urging Congress to pass the law.

Another way to boost competition would be to let people and pharmacies import some drugs from other countries with sound pharmaceutical regulation, such as Canada. Almost one in 10 Americans say they already do, despite the official prohibition.

The U.S. should also do what so many other countries do: negotiate. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ought to use its enormous purchasing power on behalf of the 42 million Americans in the Medicare drug-benefit program, ensuring that prices better reflect the drugs’ actual medical value. Again, for this to happen, Congress would need to change the law. Incredible as this will seem elsewhere in the world, the U.S. government has denied itself permission to apply pharmaceutical cost-benefit analysis and negotiate prices.

Trump is right to deplore the cost of drugs in the U.S. There’s no great mystery about the causes — and no doubt that much bolder measures than the administration has in mind will be needed to bring prices down.

Budget, White Paper Provide Insight Into Trump Administration’s Strategy On Drug Pricing

During his first year in office, President Donald Trump spoke often about the problem of high drug prices but took no action on the subject. President Trump’s new budget proposal and a newly released white paper from the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) aim to change that by laying out a strategy for action moving forward. These documents are, of course, aspirational, but they do provide a window into the administration’s priorities, and they should be evaluated to consider whether the administration has a possibility of achieving its stated goals.

In this post, I review several of the key elements of those proposals, considering their impact on a range of relevant dimensions. I discuss what’s included in the proposals, and, as importantly, what’s left out.

Medicare Reforms

The bulk of the proposed reforms would act on the Medicare and Medicaid programs. For Medicare, the Trump administration’s proposals are largely targeted at 1) assisting beneficiaries with high out-of-pocket costs and 2) realigning incentives to alter prescribing and reimbursement practices.

First, the administration is advancing a set of proposals to assist Medicare Part D beneficiaries with high out-of-pocket costs. Both the white paper and budget proposal argue that plans should be required to share with beneficiaries at the point-of-sale some amount of the rebates the plan negotiates with drug manufacturers. In November, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) already requested public comments on the implementation of this proposal, and it seems as if the budget document’s inclusion of the proposal is evidence that the administration is hoping to move it forward.

However, like many of the other reforms in the budget proposal and white paper, there are few details proposed. In CMS’s November proposal, the agency modeled a set of scenarios in which insurers pass through 33 percent, 66 percent, 90 percent, or 100 percent of their negotiated rebates. Each scenario comes with a set of advantages for beneficiaries, but also costs for the federal government. That is, CMS anticipated that reducing cost-sharing for particular high-cost beneficiaries would increase premiums for all beneficiaries, and therefore increase CMS’ overall spending through premium subsidies. How much the proposal would increase overall spending depends on the amount of rebates being passed through.

The budget proposal simply says that sponsors must pass through “at least one-third” of total rebates, so it does not provide further clarity on this proposal. However, it states that this proposal will cost the government $42.2 billion over 10 years. That estimate lies between CMS’s November estimates for 33 percent ($27.3 billion in spending) and 66 percent ($55.1 billion in spending), so it is possible that the administration has in mind a pass-through provision at 50 percent or so.

Another proposal aimed at out-of-pocket costs would establish an out-of-pocket maximum for patients who enter the Medicare Part D catastrophic phase. Currently, patients who reach the catastrophic phase of the Part D benefit are responsible for 5 percent of the costs of their prescription drugs, with no upper limit. The budget proposal would reduce their payments to 0 percent, although it is light on the details as to how this would be accomplished. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that just over one million Part D enrollees have out-of-pocket costs above this threshold, and those patients would likely be the primary beneficiaries of this proposal. At the same time, however, the budget proposes to exclude manufacturer discounts from patient out-of-pocket cost calculations, which would likely slow the rate at which patients move into the catastrophic phase.

Second, the Trump administration proposes a number of changes to drug classification and reimbursement that would both enable plan sponsors to negotiate more effectively and alter prescribing behavior. The budget proposal would change current Part D plan formulary rules, requiring sponsors to cover just one drug per class, rather than two. The proposal also mentions increased use of utilization management tools for the six protected classes of drugs, suggesting that the general coverage requirement for those classes would remain as-is. This proposal is projected to save $5.5 billion over ten years.

More interestingly, both the budget proposal and CEA white paper suggest the possibility of moving a set of Part B drugs (those administered in an outpatient setting) into Part D coverage. Medicare Part B does not presently have a number of the tools that enable Part D plan sponsors to negotiate discounts with drug manufacturers, and Secretary Alex Azar spoke during his confirmation hearing about the need to “take the learnings from Part D and apply them to Part B.” This proposal would accomplish that goal, just through the reverse mechanism: by shifting drugs from Part B into Part D. The budget proposal envisions giving the authority to do this to the Secretary, noting that “[t]he Secretary will exercise this authority when there are savings to be gained from price competition.” As such, it does not provide any particular budgetary impact.

The budget proposes two other changes to Part B reimbursement. At present, when a physician is reimbursed for providing a drug under Part B, she is reimbursed based on the Average Sales Price (ASP) of the drug plus 6 percent. There is widespread concern that this reimbursement system encourages physicians to prescribe and administer more expensive drugs than may be medically necessary. The Obama administration proposed a demonstration project that would have moved from the current ASP+6 percent system to a system of ASP+2.5 percent+a flat fee for prescribing the product. After extensive criticism from a range of stakeholders, the administration shelved the initiative. Now, the administration is proposing to reduce payment rates for new drugs (for which the ASP information is not yet available, and so for which the only price available is the Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC)). Instead of paying 106 percent for these new products, the administration would pay 103 percent of the WAC during the period before ASP information has yet to be provided. This proposal is quite narrow in its scope, applying only to new drugs and only during the brief period before ASP information is available; it is therefore unlikely to save much money.

The Trump administration is also proposing to establish an inflation limit for the reimbursement of Part B drugs more generally. Instead of continually updating the ASP+6 percent figure if the ASP increases, this proposal would limit the growth of the reimbursement to the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers. CMS would therefore pay “pay the lesser of (1) the actual ASP +6 percent or (2) the inflation-adjusted ASP +6 percent.” At present, Medicaid is protected from price increases when the Average Manufacturer Price (AMP) for a drug increases faster than inflation. The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General has proposed that CMS and Congress consider extending this provision to Medicare Part D, but as yet Congress has not moved to do so. This budget proposal can be thought of as proposing a similar constraint on Part B pricing.

Medicaid Reforms

The Medicaid portion of the budget proposal puts forth an idea which is potentially ground-breaking, but which is also potentially a sign of the administration’s recalcitrance to move on drug pricing (depending on the details). Specifically, the administration is proposing “new statutory demonstration authority to allow up to five states more flexibility in negotiating prices with manufacturers, rather than participate in the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, and to make drug coverage decisions that meet state needs.” The idea is something like this: at present, state Medicaid programs must cover essentially all drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which limits their ability to extract discounts. To be sure, Medicaid programs are already entitled by statute to large discounts off of the AMP, and to the inflation clawback as noted above. But many state Medicaid programs are worried that pharmaceutical spending has become an unsustainable part of their budget and are seeking ways to control their costs in this area. This proposal might empower them to do so.

Here’s the thing: Massachusetts has already submitted an 1115 waiver to CMS along these lines. Massachusetts is seeking 1) to pay for a single drug in each therapeutic class (as noted above, this is a reform the administration is proposing to make to Medicare Part D), and 2) to exclude entirely from coverage drugs “with limited or inadequate evidence of clinical efficacy,” likely to be those approved through the FDA’s accelerated approval process. This budget proposal may be a sign that the administration is interested in approving Massachusetts’ waiver. However, the fact that the budget explicitly calls for new statutory authority to do so suggests that the administration may not think it has the legal authority to approve Massachusetts’ waiver, as is. And given Congress’ inability to act thus far on drug pricing, the administration may be seeking to hide behind Congress’ inaction here.

Yet the call for new statutory authority is puzzling. At present, pharmaceutical coverage is an optional benefit under the Medicaid program. States do not have to cover drugs and therefore are not required to participate in the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, although all have chosen to do so, and choosing to do so comes with a set of requirements. But it is not clear to me why CMS could not conduct this demonstration at present, under the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation’s (CMMI) existing authority.

A potential clue may lie in the administration’s statement that the demonstration would “exempt prices negotiated under the demonstration from best price reporting.” Having written recently on the topic of the Medicaid best-price rule and innovative contracting for pharmaceuticals, it is not clear to me exactly why this is a sticking point. The Medicaid best price rule entitles Medicaid to the “best price” available for a particular drug for a particular set of providers. The statute contains large carve-outs—for instance, discounts provided to the Department of Veterans Affairs or to Medicare Part D are exempt from the best-price calculation. But it is strange to talk about needing to exempt Medicaid programs from the best-price rule when the best-price rule was intended to benefit Medicaid itself. I imagine that the administration sees the 340B program as a potential concern here, but again it is not obvious why CMMI could not waive the best-price rule as part of its existing authority.

FDA Activities

As I have written here previously, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has been at the forefront of the Trump administration’s efforts on drug pricing. He has taken a number of actions to promote generic competition, and although it will take some time to observe their benefits, the FDA’s existing legal authority to address drug pricing issues is quite narrowly circumscribed. The CEA white paper and budget proposal largely acknowledge this point, with the white paper lauding the actions the FDA has taken thus far on expediting review of generic drug applications, providing guidance on the development of complex generics, and other similar activities.

President Trump’s budget proposal calls for Congress to give the FDA more power to promote generic competition, by “ensur[ing] that first-to-file generic applicants who have been awarded a 180-day exclusivity period do not unreasonably and indefinitely block subsequent generics from entering the market beyond the exclusivity period.” More specifically, the concern is that first-to-file generic applicants—perhaps those whose initial applications may be rejected—can unduly delay generic entry while they remedy the deficiencies in their application. The administration projects that this reform will save the government $1.8 billion in Medicare savings over 10 years.

Other pieces of legislation have called for reform of the 180-day exclusivity period in different ways. Last year, Democrats in both the House and Senate introduced the Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, which included provisions preventing generic entrants from receiving the statutory 180-day exclusivity benefit if they had engaged in pay-for-delay conduct (Sections 402 and 403). But the idea in the president’s budget proposal may dovetail nicely with the FDA’s efforts to improve first-cycle approval rates for abbreviated new drug application products, as well.

What’s Missing

Perhaps what’s most notable about the budget proposal and the CEA white paper is not what’s included, but rather what is missing. Gone are some of President Trump’s older arguments that Medicare should negotiate drug prices, or that drug importation should be permitted more widely. Some of the more significant cost-saving provisions from President Obama’s budget, like a reform that would have put low-income patients back on Medicaid prices, are also absent.

A key set of missing proposals are those which would directly assist privately insured patients. The budget’s focus on Medicare and Medicaid may well have a positive impact on the more than 100 million Americans enrolled in those programs. But for the roughly half of Americans (closer to 160 million) with employer-sponsored insurance, these reforms will provide no assistance. Growing numbers of Americans with employer-sponsored insurance are enrolled in high-deductible plans, and many of them may face the same affordability concerns that Medicare beneficiaries are facing.

You could imagine proposals that would address the drug pricing problem more broadly, rather than just within the publicly-insured population. The above-mentioned Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act would have addressed the problem of drug pricing for a broader segment of the population. As I’ve explained here, the Act would have taxed companies which engage in large, year-over-year list price increases. It would also have capped patient out-of-pocket costs in Affordable Care Act-regulated plans, at $250 per month for an individual or $500 per month for a family.

More generally, even these proposals which would affect drug companies directly would have a minimal impact on their bottom lines. This set of proposals is largely very friendly to the pharmaceutical industry and is primarily aimed at curtailing patients’ financial burdens and tweaking incentives for stakeholders at the margin.

In this blog post, I have covered just a handful of the many different drug pricing-related proposals included in the new budget proposal and in the CEA white paper. As usual, observers should stay tuned to the actions CMS and the FDA take on this front, as they will show whether the administration is serious about these proposals or is merely posturing.