As we have reported in the past, when it comes to issues affecting seniors the overwhelming attention of Congress this year is on lowering prescription drug prices.
Our analysis of TSCL-supported legislation introduced so far shows there are only two bills regarding Social Security Reform (one in each house of Congress), two bills regarding Medicare reform (again, one in each house of Congress), but five bills in the Senate and 4 bills in the House regarding Medicare Part D and prescription drug prices.
This week’s report shows that emphasis continues even as TSCL has made great efforts to have Social Security reform and other senior-related legislation introduced, in addition to the drug-pricing legislation.
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President Issues Order to Promote Competition, Move Forward with Drug Importation
Last week President Biden issued a sweeping executive order aimed at promoting competition in the economy through 72 initiatives cracking down on anti-competitive practices in multiple industries.
Among other several other things, the order addresses prescription drug pricing and allows hearing aids to be sold over the counter at drug stores and it directs over a dozen federal agencies to implement these 72 initiatives to promote competition in the U.S.
The president has laid out a plan to promote competition in the health care sector, including directing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work with states on importing prescription drugs from Canada, and direct officials to develop a “comprehensive plan” to lower drug prices in 45 days.
In addition, Biden will direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to evaluate hospital mergers that could be harmful to patient care, especially in rural communities.
The Trump administration had issued rules for states to apply to allow drug imports, and Florida in particular expressed interest, but no imports have actually begun. Drug-makers have also filed a lawsuit to block the rules.
The Biden administration also appears to be considering other actions to lower drug prices as part of the “comprehensive plan,” though it is not clear what steps those will be.
Some of the other actions included in the President’s order are:
- Directing the Department of Health and Human Services to consider issuing rules within 120 days to allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter.
- Directing the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to revise their guidelines for hospital mergers to “ensure patients are not harmed by such mergers.”
- Encouraging the FTC to ban “pay for delay” agreements, where a brand-name drug company pays a generic drug company to delay introducing competition to a certain drug.
The White House blames declining competition across the economy for raising prices of necessities like prescription drugs, lowering wages for workers, and acting as a drag on growth and innovation.
This new order targets areas where it says the lack of competition increases prices and reduces access to quality care, starting with prescription drug prices.
While there is a long way to go from a presidential directive to final regulations TSCL is pleased to see the President taking these actions. Now if Congress will do its job there seems to be a real possibility of major reform this year regarding prescription drug prices.
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Want to Know Ahead of Time What Your Hospital Will Charge? Forget About It
In 2019 the Trump Administration issued a federal price transparency rule that took effect this year. The rule was supposed to give patients,
employers and insurers a clearer picture of the true cost of hospital care.
However well intended the rule was, it has not enabled patients to learn about the prices that hospitals charge for their services.
Kaiser Health News has published an article about the attempts of one of their health care reporters to understand hospital prices and he decided it was futile. Here is an excerpt of his report:
“I set out to test that statement by comparing prices in two major California hospital systems. I am sorry to report that, at least for now, that status quo — the tangled web that long has cloaked hospital pricing — is alive and well.
“After three months of glazed eyes and headaches from banging my head against walls of numbers, I am throwing in the towel. It was a fool’s errand. My efforts ultimately yielded just one helpful piece of advice: Don’t try this at home.”
A critical part of the free-market system as it operates in this country is that we know how much the goods and services we want to buy will cost us so that we, as consumers, can decide whether, for instance, we will buy bread and milk from grocery store A or grocery store B. If we do not know what they cost we cannot determine which we can afford.
That is why President Biden issued the order we reported on above. Competition is being stifled and consumers have less and less of the information they need to make informed decisions about what they buy.
This is especially true in health care. And while TSCL does not believe the free market can or should be the sole determining factor in much of health care, we do believe it can, in many areas, reduce the costs of health care if patients know what they will have to pay.
That is why we are supportive of the President’s order and why we believe further action is needed to force hospitals and other health care providers to be transparent about the prices they charge.
If you wish to read the entire Kaiser Health News article you can go here:
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Speaker Pelosi Wants Legislation to Cut Drug Prices
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week that she is pushing to attach drug price cutting legislation to the major budget bill carrying most of President Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda in the coming months.
The Speaker slammed drug companies for the level of stock buybacks and dividends in recent years and argued that cuts to prices will not harm research and development spending given new findings on buybacks.
The House Democratic bill would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and then force drug companies to lower the prices they charge private insurers or impose huge fines on the companies. Pelosi said she wants it to be part of a special budget bill that can pass the Senate without Republican support since it is immune from the filibuster.
A report released by the House Oversight Committee last week said that from 2016 to 2020, the 14 top drug companies spent $577 billion on stock buybacks and dividends. That is some $56 billion more than the amount spent on research and development, the report said.
However, pharmaceutical companies have sent in multitudes of lobbyists to stop the House Democrats bill, arguing that it would deter the creation of new drugs and lead to suffering and death.
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As we continue recovering from the Covid 19 pandemic, TSCL remains constant in our fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.
For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.