Rising Drug Costs Hover as Election Issue

Rising Drug Costs Hover as Election Issue
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As Election Day gets closer and closer, health care seemingly becomes more and more complex as new information and concerns arise. The uninsured rate is at a new low of 9.1 percent. That’s good news for Democratic candidates. But insurance premiums are predicted to rise 11 percent next year – bad news for everyone, and possibly for those same Democrats.

In addition, the total amount of spending on prescription drug prices increased around 20 percent from 2013 to 2015.  It was this last topic, how to address the rising cost of complex drugs, that drew the attention of congressmen and a panel of industry leaders and policy experts Thursday during a forum sponsored by RealClearHealth and Express Scripts.  Dr. Steve Miller, senior vice president and chief medical officer at the latter, set the stage for the discussion, stating that “we have a [drug pricing] system that is not sustainable.”

The divide over how to fix that system was reflected by what followed. Solutions from the left include caps on prescription drug prices or to allow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers.  But “I wouldn’t start with pricing caps, I wouldn’t start with negotiations,” Rep. Xavier Beccera (D-Calif.) told RealClearPolitics Executive Editor Carl Cannon, who moderated the event. “The first step, the easiest step, we need to take is more [congressional] oversight. So that we, and then you -- meaning the general public -- get to see what is going on in this industry. That is when we can decide which fork in the road to follow.” 

Beccera asserted that “if the pharmaceutical industry can’t figure out that health care isn’t a commodity,” then the government has to impose regulations.  

Rep. Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican, offered a different view. He applauded Medicare Part D as a “free-market solution,” since the majority of drugs available through the program are generics. The problem, according to Johnson, is that even though prices for generics keep falling, prescription prices overall keep rising because the FDA has a backlog of generics to approve.  Clearing that backlog and “continuing to work with the FDA to make them more efficient in the long-term … that’s what is going to drive prices down, not federal pricing controls.”

A four-person panel moderated by Politico’s Sarah Karlin-Smith discussed biotech, transparency issues, and pharmacy benefit managers in relation to drug pricing. The other participants were Dr. Mona Chitre of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield; Dan Durham of Biotechnology Innovation Organization; Dr. Paul Ginsburg of  the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and also the Brookings Institution; and Mark Merritt of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association.

Videos of the full event are viewable below:

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