House Subcommittee Takes Dim View of Healthcare Consolidation

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/house-subcommittee-takes-dim-view-healthcare-consolidation

Lawmakers and witnesses alike cited the ill-effects of hospital mergers and acquisitions in a long list of industry behavior they find troubling.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

An economics and health policy professor from Carnegie Mellon suggested lawmakers should give the FTC more power to review nonprofit mergers.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed dissatisfaction with the healthcare industry’s consolidation trend and voiced support for legislative action.

A hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee would not have been a comfortable place Thursday for any healthcare executive touting the benefits of a planned merger or acquisition.

Lawmakers and witnesses took turns criticizing rampant consolidation among hospitals and other healthcare companies. While the public is often told these deals will lead to improved efficiency and higher quality care, those purported benefits frequently fail to materialize, they said.

Since the hearing grouped payer and provider consolidation with anticompetitive concerns about the pharmaceutical industry—an area that both major parties have expressed interest in addressing through congressional action—the discussion could signal how lawmakers will approach any legislation to address the problems they perceive.

Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia and the committee’s ranking member, said hospital consolidation has had an especially detrimental impact on rural communities in his state.


“These communities often already have few options for quality care, so as hospital consolidation has increased over the past 10 years, rural communities like my own have been hurt the most,” Collins said.

“At times, these mergers and acquisitions can help rural communities by keeping facilities open, but often they result in full or partial closures and shifting patients from nearby facilities to those hours away,” he added.

Some problems caused by consolidation, such as increased travel times for emergency services, can “literally mean the difference in life and death,” Collins said.

Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York and the committee’s chairman, said there’s no question that the recent spate of mergers has contributed to the industry’s problems.

“It is well documented that hospital mergers can lead to higher prices and lower quality of care,” Nadler said.

Martin Gaynor, PhD, an economics and health policy professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a founder of the Health Care Cost Institute, said in his testimony that there have been nearly 1,600 hospital mergers in the past 20 years, leading most regions to be dominated by one large health system apiece.

“This massive consolidation in healthcare has not delivered for Americans. It has not given us better care or enhanced efficiency,” Gaynor said. “On the contrary, extensive research evidence shows us that consolidation between close competitors results in higher prices, and patient quality of care suffers for lack of competition.”

Since hospitals that have fewer competitors can better negotiate favorable payment terms, this consolidated landscape “poses a serious challenge for payment reform,” he added.

“Our healthcare system is based on markets. That system is only going to work as well as the markets that underpin it,” Gaynor said. “Unfortunately, these markets do not function as well as they could or should.”

Gaynor recommended several possible policy changes, including an end to policies that make it harder for new competitors to enter a market and compete and an expanded authority for the Federal Trade Commission to review potentially anticompetitive conduct by nonprofit entities. He also said lawmakers should consider imposing FTC reporting requirements for even small transactions to enhance the tracking capabilities of enforcement agencies.

To support his claims, in his written testimony, Gaynor pointed to research he completed with Farzad Mostashari of Aledade Inc. and Paul B. Ginsburg of The Brookings Institution.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

GOP tax law boosts health care profits

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Image result for 1 big thing: GOP tax law boosts health care profits

The GOP tax law is padding health care companies’ bottom lines, according to my colleague Bob Herman’s analysis of newly released financial information from the last quarter of 2018. Overall, the industry’s profits were up significantly from the same period a year earlier.

The big picture: The law made it easier to bring home money that was parked abroad. It also eliminated tax provisions that have specifically helped large companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers. But the lower corporate tax rate is the main event.

  • Drug giant Pfizer received a $563 million tax benefit in the fourth quarter, and its corporate income tax rate in all of 2018 was just 6%.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s effective tax rate in the last quarter of 2018 was 2.6%.
  • Almost half of the $551 million tax break recorded by hospital chain HCA Healthcare in 2018 came in the fourth quarter.

Between the lines: The tax law aside, the companies that handle the most revenue — like health insurers collecting premiums or drug distributors shipping products — are not the most profitable.

  • The highest margins still usually belong to pharmaceutical companies and medical-devices.

 

 

 

‘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.”

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Drug Prices Due to Rise in 2019

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28 pharmaceutical companies will raise their drug prices next year going back on the price freezes that they instituted this summer after public shaming from Administration officials, according to press reports. 

Allergan, Bayer, Novartis, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Biogen, and GlaxoSmithKline are among the companies who filed disclosures with California earlier this year that they planned to raise prices within at least 60 days, in accordance with the state’s 2017 notification law.

Payers have reported that they anticipate drug price increases about 20 percent higher than previous years with the average price increase for a pharmacy-dispensed drug to be in the high single digits and the increase for physician-administered drugs to be around 3 percent.

Click here for the Reuters report.

 

The Health 202: Here’s how Trump and Bernie Sanders agree on lowering drug prices

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2018/11/21/the-health-202-here-s-how-trump-and-bernie-sanders-agree-on-lowering-drug-prices/5bf42bd91b326b3929054956/?utm_term=.143e3b258cb2

Image result for high drug prices

Have you heard about the trendy new approach to lowering prescription drug spending? Copy other countries.

The Trump administration and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are strange bedfellows on drug prices. But they’re both eyeing similar approaches to lowering the country’s astronomically high spending on prescription medicines: pegging U.S. drug prices to lower international levels.

Sanders proposed a bill Tuesday incentivizing companies to develop cheaper generic versions of brand-name medications that the government determines to be “excessively priced” in comparison to the median price in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan.

This is similar to an idea advanced in October by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose agency is experimenting with pegging some Medicare payments to an index based on sales prices in those five countries plus 11 more: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

Both proposals stem from the reality that drug prices are much higher in the United States because the government doesn’t engage in price-setting, unlike in many other countries with similar economies. That means pharmaceutical companies pocket a lot more money in this country — and rely more heavily on their U.S. profits to pay for developing new medications.

Trump and Sanders have adopted similar rhetoric when they talk about the issue, even though the Republican president and the self-described democratic socialist senator couldn’t be further apart on other topics such as taxes and immigration. The United States pays unfairly high prices for prescription drugs, they argue, even as other countries demand — and obtain – steep discounts.

It’s not the first time Trump and Sanders have shared common ground. During their 2016 campaigns, both candidates advocated allowing Medicare’s prescription drug program to directly negotiate lower prices with drugmakers and private companies. Trump has since backed away from that idea, but HHS surprised many with its bold suggestion of  creating an international price index (which I explained in this Health 202).

Granted, HHS’s experiment is quite limited in scope. It applies only to drugs administered to Medicare patients by doctors themselves and will last just five years. The experiment — called a “demonstration” in administration-speak — won’t start until sometime after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services propose a rule early next year.

Sanders’s proposal, also sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), would go much further by affecting all drugs, including those purchased by Americans with private health insurance. If HHS determined a drug price to be excessive, the secretary would be directed to strip its maker of exclusivity rights and open the door for competitors to develop a generic version.

Sanders gave a nod to Trump’s Part B proposal but emphasized that his approach would help the more than 150 million Americans who get private health coverage from their employer. The monthly cost for the popular insulin Lantus (used for diabetes) could fall from $387 to $220 and the medication Humira (used for arthritis) could fall from $2,770 to $1,576, according to some examples provided by Sanders’s office.

There’s little to no chance Sanders’s bill will advance in Congress. Many Republicans aren’t enthused even about Trump’s limited Part B demonstration, because it smacks of government price-setting.

There is something else Sanders shares with the president: strong resistance from the pharmaceutical industry. A spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said both proposals would be “devastating” if implemented.

“This legislation would have the same devastating impact on patients as the administration’s proposed International Pricing Index model,” PhRMA spokeswoman Nicole Longo said in a statement provided to The Health 202.

“Patients in countries whose governments set prices wait years for new medicines and have far fewer treatment options,” she added. “These policies reduce investment in research and development, slow progress in creating tomorrow’s cures and will result in Americans having access to fewer new medicines.”