WASHINGTON — The Trump administration issued new policies that it argues will lower drug prices for seniors, and the chair of a key Senate health committee suggested that a bipartisan plan to stabilize the individual insurance markets could be resurrected.
CMS Unveils Proposed Changes to Part D Drug Policies
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced several new policies aimed at lowering drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries, but critics say the savings may be quite modest and that the proposals may reduce beneficiaries’ access to needed drugs.
“Foremost in our mind was the impact on patients and ensuring affordability and access to prescription drugs,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said Monday on a phone call with reporters. “From day one, President Trump has made it clear that lowering prescription drug costs is a top priority… and CMS is hard at work to make the president’s vision a reality, because the status quo is unacceptable.”
The proposals CMS announced Monday include allowing Part D plans more flexibility to negotiate discounts for drugs in “protected” classes; allowing Part D plans to exclude protected class drugs that increase prices greater than the rate of inflation, as well as drugs that are not a significant innovation over the original product; and requiring Part D plans to provide a way for doctors and patients to know, at the time a prescription is being written, how much that particular drug will cost the patient out of pocket.
“This would be a tool providers can use when prescribing medication, to see what options are available,” said Verma. “It’s not required every time a physician prescribes a drug, but an option to see what the costs could be… so they can have that discussion with the patient.”
Revival of Bill to Shore Up ACA Possible, Says Alexander
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, said Wednesday that he would be open to considering the revival of a bipartisan bill to shore up the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health insurance exchanges.
“We can revisit the… Alexander-Murray bill if you would like,” Alexander said during a HELP committee hearing, referring to the bill named after its main sponsors — himself and the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). He was responding to comments Murray made at the beginning of the hearing. “I regretted that we couldn’t find a way to make it work… Maybe we can find a way to make it work in the new session.”
As Alexander explained, the Alexander-Murray bill “would have reduced rates of individual insurance by up to 40% over 3 years, and it included 3 years of reinsurance, 3 years of [cost-sharing reduction or CSR] subsidies, and more flexibility for states without changing the essential health benefits” that insurers are required to cover under the ACA.
But, the bill — part of a larger spending measure — died in March, even with support from 24 senators. “From my vantage point, the reason it didn’t succeed is because Democrats wouldn’t vote for the Hyde amendment… even though they voted for it 100 times in other parts of the same bill,” Alexander said Wednesday, referring to a provision that limits taxpayer funding for abortions. Alexander and Murray reportedly clashed over the exact wording of the amendment, which Congress includes in all spending bills.
NASEM Outlines Research Needs in Tracking Wars’ Effects on Veterans’ Offspring
From oil-well fire smoke to infectious diseases and toxic chemicals, veterans of the Gulf War and the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to a range of hazardous elements and situations during deployment. Scientists believe that such exposures may affect not only the veterans themselves, but potentially their children and grandchildren.
A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released on Wednesday examined the potential reproductive, developmental, and teratogenic effects of such exposures among veterans deployed during these conflicts.
Perhaps even more importantly, authors of the report established a blueprint for stakeholders interested in assessing and monitoring the wars’ health effects on veterans, their spouses, their children, and their grandchildren in the future
“A big part of the problem that we have with veterans and health is that we always look at the problem retrospectively,” Kenneth Ramos, MD, PhD, PharmB, of the University of Arizona Health Sciences in Tucson, and chair of the committee that authored the report, told MedPage Today in a phone interview.
“If I’m only going to look at a problem in the grandchild of a veteran that was deployed 50 years before, what kind of intervention am I going to put in place that’s going to make a difference?”
Industry Experts, Clinicians Seek Solutions to Drug Shortages
With drug shortages endangering patients, frustrating providers, and costing hospitals millions each year, stakeholders debated strategies to fix the problem during a day-long meeting hosted by the FDA and the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy.
“We’ve been in continuous drug shortage mode for over 10 years now,” said Ritu Sahni MD, MPH, an advocate for the National Association of EMS Physicians and an audience participant.
Sahni described shortages of injectable opioids, injectable anti-emetics, and cardiac arrest medications, and called for tracking, monitoring, and categorizing emergency medications uniquely.
“When those are unavailable to my crew in the back of an ambulance driving 30 miles an hour or 60 miles an hour, there’s no other choice,” he said. “This is life-threatening and immediate stuff.”
On Monday, the FDA and the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy will explore safety signal detection in the FDA’s Sentinel System.
On Tuesday, the American Enterprise Institute will host panel discussions on healthcare competition.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the FDA’s Circulatory System Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee will discuss novel medical devices for cardiological conditions, including an electrical stimulator for heart failure patients as well as device-based approaches to refractory hypertension.
Also on Wednesday, Health IT Now, IBM will examine the importance of interoperability in healthcare.
And, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce will assess the availability of SAFE kits in hospitals.
On Thursday, the Bipartisan Policy Center will host a panel discussion on the CHRONIC Care Act of 2018.
And, a subcommittee to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will discuss alternatives to fetal tissue research.
On Friday, the Alliance for Health Policy will host a briefing on “Aging in America.”