Legislative Update for Week Ending September 7, 2018

Legislative Update for Week Ending September 7, 2018

This week, lawmakers in the Senate advanced legislation that would reduce prescription drug prices for older Americans if signed into law. Meanwhile, those in the House returned to Capitol Hill following a month-long recess, and one subcommittee met to examine neglect, abuse, and substandard care at skilled nursing facilities. The Senior Citizens League also saw support grow for two key House bills.

Senate Advances Prescription Drug Legislation

On Tuesday, lawmakers in the Senate voted unanimously to approve the bipartisan Know the Lowest Price Act (S. 2553). The bill, which was introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI) earlier this year, would prohibit “gag clauses” that prevent pharmacists from telling Medicare beneficiaries when it would be cheaper to purchase their prescriptions out-of-pocket than through their Part D or Medicare Advantage plans.

For example, say that an individual purchased a medication for high blood pressure at the pharmacy for $125 through her Medicare Part D plan. Due to “gag clauses” that are put in place by insurance plans or pharmacy benefit managers, the pharmacist could not tell that individual that her prescription would have been $100 if she purchased it with cash.

A study recently conducted by the University of Southern California Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics found that consumers “would be better off paying cash 23 percent of the time and would save an average of $7.69 using cash for those transactions.”

If signed into law, the Know the Lowest Price Act would allow pharmacists to disclose the true prices of the prescription drugs they dispense. It would immediately lead to lower costs for Medicare beneficiaries, and The Senior Citizens League believes its passage is essential in order to protect older Americans from rising prescription drug costs.

On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health is expected to consider similar legislation, and The Senior Citizens League will keep a close eye on its movement. For more information about the Know the Lowest Price Act, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website. For progress updates, follow The Senior Citizens League on Twitter.

House Subcommittee Examines Substandard Nursing Home Care

On Thursday, lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing titled “Examining Federal Efforts to Ensure Quality of Care and Resident Safety in Nursing Homes.”

Upon announcing the hearing, Chairman Gregg Harper (MS-3) said: “Numerous articles have chronicled horrific instances of abuse, neglect, and patient harm occurring at nursing homes, including at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, in Florida, where at least twelve residents died in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September 2017. We continue to have questions about whether CMS is fulfilling its responsibility to ensure proper care of these vulnerable seniors and look forward to learning more about their efforts.”

At Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers on the subcommittee heard from three expert witnesses, including Dr. Kate Goodrich, Director for Clinical Standards and Quality at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Ms. Ruth Ann Dorrill, Regional Inspector General at the Office of Inspector General. Those at Thursday's hearing raised several concerns, including a lack of emergency preparedness, poor training of staff members, and preventable harm to nursing home residents.

In her opening statement, Ms. Dorrill highlighted a decade-long review conducted by the Office of Inspector General that found that one-third of residents in skilled nursing facilities experienced harm from the care provided – including infections, pressure ulcers, and misuse of medication – and more than half of the cases were preventable. Half of the residents who experienced harm required hospital care for treatment, costing the Medicare program millions of dollars in avoidable expenditures.

Ms. Dorrill said: “An alarming number of residents are subject to unsafe conditions, much of which is preventable with better guidance and government oversight … Our work has found widespread, serious problems.”

In response, Dr. Goodrich spoke on behalf of CMS – the agency that oversees skilled nursing facilities – about improved regulations that should result in better care over time. For example, CMS recently updated emergency preparedness requirements for nursing homes participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. They must have emergency electrical power systems, and those systems must meet federal testing requirements. Additionally, facilities have been required to develop emergency preparedness training for all staff members and contractors, and refresher training must be conducted periodically in order to remain in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The Senior Citizens League is pleased that officials at CMS are taking steps to improve nursing home care across the country, but it is clear that more work remains before abuse, neglect, and substandard care can be eliminated from these facilities. We are hopeful that lawmakers will take steps in the months ahead to ensure that all residents of skilled nursing facilities receive safe, high quality, and affordable care. For progress updates on this important issue, visit the Legislative News section of our website.

Two Key House Bills Gain Support

This week, The Senior Citizens League was pleased to see support grow for two key bills that would reduce prescription drug prices if adopted.

First, two new cosponsors – Representative Mark Takano (CA-41) and Representative Maxine Waters (CA-43) – signed on to the Transparent Drug Pricing Act of 2017 (H.R. 4116), bringing the total up to thirty-three. If adopted, this bill would mandate that pharmaceutical manufacturing companies report how and why they set drug prices to help bring more transparency to the industry.

Second, one new cosponsor – Representative Maxine Waters (CA-43) – signed on to the Competitive DRUGS Act of 2017 (H.R. 4117), bringing the total up to thirty-six cosponsors. H.R. 4117, if adopted, would prohibit brand name pharmaceutical companies from paying generic drug companies to delay the introduction of their products to the market, a common anti-competitive tactic known as "pay-for-delay."

The Senior Citizens League enthusiastically supports H.R. 4116 and H.R. 4117, and we were pleased to see support grow for them this week. For more information about these and other TSCL-backed bills, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.