How to save $80 billion a year on prescription drugs

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-2b22d854-43a4-481f-aa30-d1b14d859e29.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Illustration of a bill with money print on it.

Medicare could have saved almost $80 billion, just in 2018, by matching the U.K.’s prices for prescription drugs that don’t have any competition, according to a new study released in Health Affairs yesterday.

Why it matters: Medicare’s drug benefit was designed to keep prices in check through competition. But competition doesn’t always exist, and the U.S. doesn’t have many options to keep prices down in those cases.

  • Unlike the other three countries examined in the study, the U.S. doesn’t regulate drug prices.

Details: This study focuses on a group of single-source brand-name drugs in Medicare Part D that have been on the market for at least 3 years. Researchers compared U.S. prices for those drugs to prices in the U.K., Japan and Ontario.

  • On average, after accounting for rebates, Medicare paid 3.6 times more than the U.K., 3.2 times more than Japan, and 4.1 times more than Ontario.
  • The longer a drug was on the U.S. market, the larger that gap grew.
  • If Medicare Part D had adopted the average price from those countries, it would have saved an estimated $72.9 billion on sole-source drugs in 2018 alone.

Between the lines: The Trump administration wants to rely on international prices for Medicare Part B, which covers drugs administered in a doctor’s office. But this study shows that there are also a lot of savings to be had in Medicare Part D, which covers drugs you pick up at a pharmacy.

The other side: “An international reference pricing system could result in American seniors losing access to their choice of medicine, and waiting years longer for new breakthrough treatments,” the trade group PhRMA said in a statement.

The bottom line: The political interest in cutting drug prices is real, but we’re still a very long way from President Trump’s stated goal of matching other countries’ prices.

 

HRSA rolls out drug pricing site for 340B hospitals

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/hrsa-rolls-out-drug-pricing-site-for-340b-hospitals?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWldVeU5HSmtZek5oT1dSaiIsInQiOiJYUXRUNlZ3dGc2aVBWOVdtZ1BGb3Y2bUZNOFowbFwvQ2Y3SzZBcTB6aWswRFJtSEZ5eWFFVStCWmt1TFprZ2V4bDIzS29idkZoZ2dcL1dPbDhQV3NuV0dZXC9cL1M4XC9rc0hKMkNvY3JFa1B6OHlHeWFRZm5YcjdZa1hCdEl0bU9sdkgxIn0%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

Drug prices

After multiple delays, the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) has finally launched an online tool that 340B hospitals can use to determine the maximum that pharmaceutical companies can charge for drugs.

HRSA’s new pricing site went live on Monday morning and is one of the elements mandated in the long-delayed final rule for the 340B drug discount program. That rule, which took effect on Jan. 1, also adds monetary penalties for drug companies that overcharge hospitals in the program.

The final rule was first issued in January 2017 and was delayed five times by the Trump administration before going into effect this year. HRSA finally rolled out the rule as it determined the provisions would not interfere with the administration’s broader drug pricing policy

Provider groups and 340B advocates cheered the website’s launch. Maureen Testoni, CEO of 340B health, a group that represents more than 1,300 providers participating in the program, said in a statement that the new tool’s release “marks a positive milestone in the history of the 340B program.” 

“Today’s launch of a secure website listing the maximum allowable prices for all 340B covered drugs brings a healthy dose of sunshine into a marketplace that has, for far too long, been a black box,” Testoni said. “Until today, hospitals, clinics and health centers participating in 340B had no way to be sure they were paying the correct amount for the drugs they purchase.” 

340B Health was joined by the American Hospital Association (AHA), America’s Essential Hospitals and the Association of American Medical Colleges on a lawsuit filed in September with the goal of pushing HRSA to implement the rule.

Tom Nickels, executive vice president at AHA, said in a statement that the group was “pleased” that its lawsuit led to the site’s launch.

“As prescription drug prices continue to skyrocket, the 340B program is as crucial as ever in helping hospitals provide access to healthcare services for patients in vulnerable communities,” Nickels said. 

Amid the drug price debate, the 340B program has been under the microscope. The program has enjoyed traditionally bipartisan support, but intense lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry has led to criticism that it has grown too large.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also slashed the program’s payment rate in 2017, a shift in a longstanding Medicare policy that culled $1.6 billion in payments from the program. Hospital groups are currently battling the payment changes in court

 

 

Soaking the Sick to Make the Rich Even Richer

https://www.realclearhealth.com/articles/2019/02/13/pbms_soaking_the_sick_to_make_the_rich_even_richer_110866.html?utm_source=morning-scan&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mailchimp-newsletter&utm_source=RC+Health+Morning+Scan&utm_campaign=db14e4ebca-MAILCHIMP_RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b4baf6b587-db14e4ebca-84752421

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Congressional Democrats have quickly lined up to oppose the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate regulations that make it illegal for drug companies to reduce – or eliminate – what Medicare consumers pay for prescriptions under the Part D program.

Instead, they are pushing plans to give health insurers and the pharmacy benefit management (PBM) companies they run and own even more control over what medicine consumers can choose and how much they cost.  In doing so, Democrats are backing a government-sanctioned drug pricing cartel that extorts nearly a quarter of trillion dollars a year from prescription drug rebates, discounts, and patients (in the form of out-of-pocket costs), and shares a pittance with the patients who need medicines the most. Eighty percent of drug benefits are managed by the 3 largest PBMs, which in turn are owned by or in part by the 3 largest insurance companies.

Current Medicare regulations makes it illegal for any firm other than PBMs to handle drug prices and distribution.  Specifically, PBMs are given free rein to determine what medicines patients can and can’t use.  This power allows them to reduce the list price of drugs by obtaining rebates in exchange for encouraging the use of some treatments while discouraging the use of other medicines.  PBMs either require patients to try drugs that generate the most rebates first or force people to pay part or all of the list price of medicines that don’t generate much money.

As a result, of $140 billion Medicare Part D spent on medicines, $64 billion was pocketed by PBMs and health plans.  And of the $460 billion all Americans spent on drugs in 2018 nearly $166 billion went to discounts and rebates.

Parroting the PBM/insurer talking points, Nancy Pelosi’s health policy advisor, Wendell Primus, said prices – not rebates – are the cause of high drug costs, and savings from rebates negotiated by pharmacy benefit managers go toward reducing insurance premiums.

In fact, PBMs keep Part D premiums artificially low by collecting rebates and other fees at the retail counter. Because Medicare starts paying for 80 percent of drug costs after seniors shell out over $4500 at the pharmacy, plumping up the retail price with rebates means PBMs and insurers reduce premiums by shifting more cost to the government and ultimately by forcing seniors to pay more for medicines.

Moreover, PBMs are using rebates extracted from the medicines the most seriously ill patient uses to subsidize the drug spending and premiums of everyone else. People with cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s, autoimmune diseases are only 2 percent of the population. But in 2017 the drugs they use generated $53 billion, or 32 percent of all rebates and discounts.

These rebates could be used to reduce out-of-pocket costs of even the most expensive drugs to 50 dollars or less.  Instead PBMs and plans actually make seniors pay a large percentage of the retail cost of the rebated drugs  In fact, as rebates have increased, plans have made more consumers of these so-called specialty drugs to pay up to 50 percent of the retail price of medicines instead of a small copay.  Nearly 25 percent of all consumers now pay full price for drugs. As an IQVIA report found: “people who use specialty medicines are 10 times more likely to pay full price for the most expensive medicine. On average, they are 10 times more likely to pay over $2500.”

In 2017, 2 percent of the most vulnerable consumers paid PBMs and health plans $16 billion in out-of-pocket costs.  Soaking the sick to make the rich even richer.  The quickest way to cut the cost of medicines to what they are in Europe is to eliminate the PBM protection racket and give drug companies the freedom to dramatically reduce the out-of-pocket cost for the most expensive medicines.  To be sure, a growing number of drug firms and insurers are working together to eliminate out-of-pocket costs as part of programs to improve health by reducing barriers to access.  Indeed, because PhRMA and BIO have stated that consumers should pay less, the Trump proposal is truly a ‘put up or shut up’ moment for the industry.

Under the current rules, it doesn’t pay for PBMs and insurers to choose a drug with lower out-of-pocket costs, and drug companies have no incentive to tie out-of-pocket costs to better care.  Under current rules, patients are unable to afford the medicines that keep them alive. The Trump proposal would change all that.  It’s up to Democrats to explain why, instead of cutting drug costs dramatically and directly, they want to line the pockets of big corporations with money from the sickest patients.

 

 

‘Outrageous giveaway to Big Pharma’: A political ‘bomb’ over drug prices may threaten NAFTA 2.0

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/02/13/business/outrageous-giveaway-big-pharma-political-bomb-drug-prices-may-threaten-nafta-2-0/#.XGR6YlVKi1s

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The clash over free trade in North America has long been fought over familiar issues: low-paid Mexican workers. U.S. factories that move jobs south of the border. Canada’s high taxes on imported milk and cheese.

But as Democrats in Congress consider whether to back a revamped regional trade pact being pushed by President Donald Trump, they’re zeroing in on a new point of conflict: drug prices. They contend that the new pact would force Americans to pay more for prescription drugs, and their argument has dimmed the outlook for one of Trump’s signature causes.

The president’s proposed replacement for the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement is meant to win over Democrats by incentivizing factories to hire and expand in the United States. Yet the pact would also give pharmaceutical companies 10 years’ protection from cheaper competition in a category of ultra-expensive drugs called biologics, which are made from living cells.

Shielded from competition, critics warn, the drug companies could charge exorbitant prices for biologics.

“This is an outrageous giveaway to Big Pharma,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said in an interview. “The government guarantees at least 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic medicine. It’s a monopoly. It’s bad policy.”

The objections of DeLauro and other Democrats suddenly carry greater potency. The need to curb high drug prices has become a rallying cry for voters of all political stripes. Trump himself has joined the outcry. The revamped North America trade deal must be approved by both chambers of Congress, and Democrats have just regained control of the House.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, told The Associated Press that “I don’t think candidly that it passes out of my trade subcommittee” with the biologics provision intact.

“The biologics are some of the most expensive drugs on the planet,” Blumenauer said.

Still, the politics of NAFTA 2.0 are tricky for Democrats and not necessarily a sure-fire winner for them.

The original NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, tore down most trade barriers separating the United States, Canada and Mexico. Like Trump, many Democrats blamed NAFTA for encouraging American factories to abandon the United States to capitalize on lower-wage Mexican labor and then to ship goods back into the U.S., duty-free.

Having long vilified NAFTA, Trump demanded a new deal — one far more favorable to the United States and its workers. For more than a year, his top negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, held talks with Canada and Mexico. Lighthizer managed to insert into the new pact provisions designed to appeal to Democrats and their allies in organized labor. For example, 40 percent of cars would eventually have to be made in countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour — that is, in the United States and Canada and not in Mexico — to qualify for duty-free treatment.

The new deal also requires Mexico to encourage independent unions that will bargain for higher wages and better working conditions.

Late last year, the three countries signed their revamped deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. But it wouldn’t take effect until their three legislatures all approved it. In the meantime, the old NAFTA remains in place.

The question now is: Are Democrats prepared to support a deal that addresses some of their key objections to NAFTA and thereby hand Trump a political victory? Some Democrats have praised the new provisions that address auto wages, though many say they must be strengthened before they’d vote for the USMCA.

Protection for drug companies is another matter. Many Democrats had protested even when the Obama administration negotiated eight years of protection for biologics— from cheap-copycat competitors called “biosimilars” — in a 12-country Pacific Rim trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Trump abandoned the TPP in his first week in office. But the pharmaceutical industry is a potent lobby in Washington, and Trump’s negotiators pressed for protection for U.S. biologics in the new North American free trade deal. They ended up granting the drug companies two additional years of protection in the pact.

Top biologics include the anti-inflammatory drug Humira, the cancer fighter Rituxan and Enbrel, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

The administration and drug companies argue that makers of biologics need time to profit from their creations before biosimilars sweep in, unburdened by the cost of researching and developing the drugs. Otherwise, they contend, the brand-name drug companies would have little incentive to invest in developing new medicines.

They note that a 2015 law authorizing presidents to negotiate trade deals requires American officials to push other countries toward U.S.-level protections for intellectual property such as biologic drugs. (The same law, somewhat contradictorily, directs U.S. negotiators to “promote access to medicines.”)

Supporters also note that existing U.S. law gives makers of biologics 12 years’ protection. So the new pact wouldn’t change the status quo in the United States, though it would force Mexico to expand biologics’ monopoly from five years and Canada from eight years. In fact, supporters of the biologics monopoly argue that the pact might cut prices in the United States because drug companies would no longer face pressure to charge Americans more to compensate for lower prices in Canada and Mexico.

But critics say that expanding biologics’ monopoly in a trade treaty would prevent the United States from ever scaling back the duration to, say, the seven years the Obama administration once proposed.

“By including 10 years in a treaty, we are locking ourselves in to a higher level of monopoly protection for drugs that are already taking in billions of dollars a year,” said Jeffrey Francer, general counsel for the Association for Accessible Medicines, which represents generic drug companies. “The only way for Congress to change it is to back out of the treaty. … Does the United States want to be in violation of its own treaty?”

For Democrats, higher drug prices are shaping up as a powerful political argument against approving the president’s new North American trade deal. In December, Stanley Greenberg, a leading Democratic pollster and strategist, conducted focus groups in Michigan and Wisconsin with Trump voters who weren’t affiliated with the Republican Party. Some had previously voted for Barack Obama. Others called themselves political independents. They’re the kinds of voters Democrats hope to attract in 2020.

Greenberg said he was “shocked” by the intensity of their hostility to drug companies — and to the idea that a trade pact would shield those companies from competition.

“It was like throwing a bomb into the focus group,” said Greenberg, who is married to DeLauro. He said the voters’ consensus view was essentially: “The president was supposed to go and renegotiate (NAFTA) so that it worked for American workers. But it must be that these lobbyists are working behind the scenes” to sneak in special-interest provisions.

That perception gives Democrats reason to reject the new pact as the 2020 election approaches.

“Democrats have no incentive to do this,” said Philip Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a White House economist under President George W. Bush. “Before you know it, the presidential election season is going to be upon us.”

U.S. trade rules are designed to force Congress to give trade agreements an up-or-down vote — no nitpicking allowed. Still, there are ways to bypass those restrictions. Congressional Democrats could, for example, push the administration to negotiate so-called side letters with Canada and Mexico to address their concerns. President Bill Clinton did this with the original NAFTA.

“Lighthizer and his team are very creative,” said Blumenauer, chair of the House trade subcommittee. “This is something that can be handled.”

 

 

 

Kamala Harris’ ‘Medicare for all’ would mean massive disruption for healthcare, and the industry is prepared to fight it

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/healthcare/kamala-harris-medicare-for-all-would-mean-massive-disruption-for-healthcare-and-the-industry-is-prepared-to-fight-it

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Democratic presidential contender Sen. Kamala Harris wants to “move on” from the current healthcare system in favor of a plan that would roll everyone in the U.S. onto a government plan known as “Medicare for all,” doing away with private health insurance.

As the California Democrat and others in her party make their case, however, they will face considerable opposition not only in the insurance industry, but across the healthcare sector, which would see massive upheaval from the plan. And polling suggests that the public, roughly half of which relies on private insurance, isn’t quite on board.

Drug companies, insurers, doctors, and hospitals have united in recent months to fight national government healthcare. One healthcare industry group, called the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, has launched a five-figure digital ad campaign arguing that “Medicare for all” would cause massive disruption, higher taxes, lower quality care, and less choice for patients. It plans to spend six figures bashing “Medicare for all” over the course of 2019.

“Whether it’s called Medicare for all, single payer, or a public option, one-size-fits-all healthcare will mean all Americans have less choice and control over the doctors, treatments, and coverage,” said Lauren Crawford Shaver, the group’s executive director.

Other candidates for the Democratic nomination, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, are, like Harris, co-sponsors of the Medicare for All Act, legislation led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Although it has “Medicare” in the name, the bill would go much further than current Medicare, which covers adults 65 and older and people with disabilities. It would pay for emergency surgery, prescription drugs, mental healthcare, and eye care without a copay.

Children would be enrolled in the government plan soon after the the bill’s passage, and the rest would be gradually phased in after four years. This would mean that roughly half of the U.S. population, the 177 million people in the U.S. covered by private health insurance mostly through work, would be moved onto a government plan. Employers would pay higher taxes rather than pay for private plans.

In defending the need for a government system, Sanders has blasted insurance companies, saying upon unveiling the bill that they “make billions of dollars in profits and make industry CEOs extremely wealthy.”

But healthcare providers, not just insurers, benefit from the current fragmented system, in which insurance is purchased by employers, the government, and individuals. They charge private insurers more to make up for the gap left by patients who are uninsured or are on government programs, which pay less for their services.

If all privately insured individuals were to have Medicare instead, and if it were to pay the same rates it does now, then doctors and hospitals would see big losses caring for patients who moved from private coverage to the government plan. Healthcare providers have said that if taxes don’t go up to pay for the difference, then doctors and hospitals will face pay cuts and layoffs, leading to facility closures and long lines for care.

Hospitals serve as the main employer in many communities. For patients, that would mean losing not only a healthcare plan they might be satisfied with, but also doctors they worked with for years or hospitals they relied on in their communities.

The Medicare for All Act has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, but analyses from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the left-leaning Urban Institute found it would raise government spending over a decade by $32.6 trillion.

Overall healthcare spending, though, would actually fall by $2 trillion, as private spending on healthcare would collapse. The cut would be achieved, however, through paying 40 percent less to providers than what they were getting from private insurance.

Another obstacle to “Medicare for all” is the fact that the public isn’t fully convinced by the idea of nixing private insurance, a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows. Initially, 56 percent of those polled favored the Medicare for All Act, but then when they learned it would do away with private health insurance, the support fell to 37 percent.

Candidates are going to face pushback within their party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have not embraced government healthcare, instead pushing for adding funding to Obamacare.

But proponents of allowing the government to have a more extensive role in healthcare point out that waste is prevalent in the current system. Patients receive unnecessary medical care, such as repeated tests or surgeries that either don’t make them healthier or even make them worse.

These proponents agree with Harris that health insurance companies are unnecessary. Wendell Potter, an advocate of a government-financed healthcare system and president of the Business Initiative for Health Policy, said in a statement that polling results show the healthcare industry’s misinformation campaign to spread “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” was effective. He said that commercial health insurance companies don’t have an incentive to lower healthcare costs and make sure patients can access care.

Potter, a former health insurance executive, described how the information campaign worked, saying the goal was to “make people believe that private health insurance companies were a necessary part of the healthcare system, and to scare them into thinking that a ‘Medicare for all’ system was expensive and impractical, and that it would cause a significant drop off in the quality of care.”

 

 

 

 

Big Pharma Lobby Group Spent Record Amount as Reform Push Grows

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-22/big-pharma-lobby-group-spent-record-amount-as-reform-push-grows

The pharmaceutical industry’s 2 leading trade groups both set records for lobbying spending in 2018 — a sign of just how much the industry believes is on the line in the political battle over drug prices.

By the numbers:

  • PhRMA, the industry’s largest trade organization, spent $27.5 million on lobbying last year, per Bloomberg. That’s the most it has ever spent in 1 year.
  • A full $10 million of that came in the first quarter — the most PhRMA has ever spent in a single quarter.
  • The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, meanwhile, spent just shy of $10 million, according to STAT — also a record.
  • Those totals don’t include the millions individual drug companies spent on their own lobbyists. They also don’t include the industry’s campaign contributions, which topped $17 million in the 2018 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Between the lines: PhRMA set its previous lobbying record during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, trying to stop a fully Democratic government from taking a bite out of its bottom line.

  • It’s remarkable that PhRMA would break that record in a year where Republicans — the industry’s allies — controlled the House, Senate and White House.