Senate rules could undercut Democrats’ prescription drug plan

“Democrats have a multi-pronged strategy for addressing drug prices in the Build Back Better Act. First, they would allow Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers on the prices of a certain number of prescription drugs, something they have been promising to do for years. But Democrats also want to limit drug companies’ ability to hike the prices of their medications for everyone — regardless of what kind of health insurance they have — in the future.

To do that, Congress has proposed requiring drugmakers to pay rebates for any price increases, in either the Medicare health program or the commercial health plans that cover 180 million Americans.

But, as Politico reported this week, the plan to apply the inflation-indexed rebates to the commercial market could be in trouble.

Senate Republicans — at the urging of the drug industry — plan to challenge whether the rebates for commercial health plans are permissible in a bill passed through the budget reconciliation process.”

“the Byrd Rule requires that all the provisions in a budget reconciliation bill directly change federal spending or revenue.

Republicans will argue that the purpose of the provision is to control drug prices for the private plans, full stop, and that does not have anything to do with federal spending or revenue — at least not directly.

The Democratic counterargument would be that applying these rebates to commercial plans would have a serious, more than incidental, effect on the federal budget. The federal government subsidizes almost all private insurance plans in one way or another, and so lower or higher costs for those plans could have major implications and lower costs for private health plans could also mean higher wages for workers, who would then pay more in taxes.

Who wins is likely ultimately a decision for the Senate parliamentarian.”

“what would happen if the parliamentarian determines rebates covering commercial plans cannot be allowed under the Byrd Rule?

The big fear, voiced by advocates of the Democrats’ plan, is that drug companies would extract higher prices from the commercial market in order to make up for the revenue they would lose from Medicare once that program’s new price controls take effect.

According to several experts, that appears unlikely. Loren Adler, associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, covered why in a lengthy analysis published in September.

“Fundamentally, for this to occur, it would have to be the case that drug companies are benevolently choosing not to profit-maximize at present,” Adler told me this week, “which I find rather difficult to believe.””

“Under the current plan, drugmakers would pay a rebate based on their sales volume in both the Medicare and commercial markets. In that scenario, there would be little reason to raise list prices faster than inflation, because you are paying the penalty based on the entire market.

But if those rebates can’t include the commercial market, the penalty will be based on the Medicare market only — making it a smaller price to pay if a company does decide to hike the list price of a drug at a rate higher than inflation.”

Do high deductibles lower healthcare prices? Price Controls VS Managed Market Healthcare.

Video Sources: Do high deductibles lower healthcare prices? Price Controls VS Managed Market Healthcare.

High-Deductible Health Plans Reduce Health Care Cost And Utilization, Including Use Of Needed Preventive Services Rajender Agarwal et al. 10 2017. HealthAffairs. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0610 Does High Cost-Sharing Slow the Long-term Growth Rate of Health Spending? Evidence from the States Molly Frean and Mark

The new Alzheimer’s drug that could break Medicare

“Medicare’s inability to determine the price it pays for aducanumab is a uniquely American problem compared to health systems in the rest of the developed world. Countries like Australia and the United Kingdom have independent boards that evaluate a new drug’s effectiveness and set a price based on that estimated value. The US pharma industry says the US system is important for encouraging innovation, and companies have made amazing breakthroughs, such as the hepatitis-C drugs that effectively cure that disease.

But, as the standards for approving have sometimes seemed to slip in recent years, the chances of the FDA approving very expensive drugs with only marginal benefits have risen.

“We don’t require prices to reflect the value of treatment, period,” Dusetzina said. “Companies can price their drugs as high as they want. Companies can also get drugs approved with little evidence.”

So Biogen is planning to charge $56,000 annually for aducanumab. ICER, which evaluates the estimated value of new drugs, estimates, based on the clinical evidence, that it’s worth more like $8,000; perhaps as little as $2,500 or as much as $23,100. Regardless, the price announced after Biogen secured FDA approval “far exceeds even this optimistic scenario,” ICER concluded.”

Bernie Sanders’s new favorite Medicare-for-all study, explained

“Medicare-for-all could potentially save money, if provider payment rates are kept low and there isn’t an explosion in medical demand. It should save lives, based on what we know about what happens with mortality rates once people get insurance.

But it would be wise not to take the numbers too literally. There is a lot of guesswork in projecting what Medicare-for-all would cost and the effect it would have”

Trump called on Congress to pass a drug prices bill. Democrats reminded him they already did.

“The House bill — H.R.3 — has a few mechanisms for reducing prescription drug prices, but most notably, it would allow the US health department to directly negotiate the prices it will pay for up to 250 drugs every year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated the bill would save Medicare up to $450 billion over 10 years because of those new negotiating powers. CBO has also projected about eight fewer drugs (out of an expected 300 over 10 years) would come to the market in the next decade because of the decrease in revenues for drug makers.

Despite Trump’s promises on the 2016 campaign trail that he would support proposals allowing Medicare drug negotiations, the White House threatened to veto the House plan. They called it a plan to institute government “price controls,” and said it would limit access to medicine, a favored talking point of the pharmaceutical lobby.

Even without this veto threat, H.R.3 is expected to be dead-on-arrival in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown no interest in taking up the bill.”

“Instead, Trump has aligned himself more with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has advanced a narrower set of reforms from his perch as the Senate Finance Committee chair. (Grassley has also accused McConnell of sabotaging his bill, which moved out of Grassley’s committee with bipartisan support.)

His committee sent a bill to the full Senate in the fall, though it has languished there in the months since. It’s unclear if Trump’s quasi-endorsement — he did not call out Grassley’s bill directly Tuesday night, instead praising the senator generally for his individual work on the issue — will provide any new momentum for the plan. Grassley’s bill, as the Brookings Institution documented, achieves pricing reform through a mix of technical changes to the rebates that drug makers pay under Medicare and Medicaid as well as provisions to cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors.

Right now, neither of the bills seems on a fast track to anywhere. Part of this is because Trump’s interest in drug pricing has been scattershot at best, and many Republicans are reluctant to place too many new regulations on an innovation industry.”

A CT scan costs $1,100 in the US — and $140 in Holland

“for medical services, other wealthy countries are often paying half the price — or less — as private insurers in the United States.

The Netherlands, consistently ranked as one of the best health care systems in the world by advanced metrics, spends a quarter of what American insurers do on hip and knee replacements. A CT scan costs $1,100 in the United States and $140 in Holland. There are only a handful of isolated instances — childbirth in the United Kingdom, an angiogram or cataract surgery in New Zealand — where the cost of a particular service even approaches the US price.”

“The US is still the wealthiest country in the world. It’s home to the world’s leading biopharmaceutical industry. It tends to have the most cutting-edge treatments. All this contributes to higher prices here than elsewhere. But one big and unavoidable culprit is the lack of price regulation.

Private insurers, which cover more than half of Americans, negotiate with private providers and drug companies to set their prices. They do have some leverage (by denying a provider or drugmaker access to their patients) but it is more limited than in other countries. There is certainly significant price variation within the United States (with CT scans, for example, can cost anywhere from $250 to $1,500 depending on the location), but on average, prices for US private insurance are significantly higher than those seen under other kinds of health systems.

In some of the countries studied by the Health Care Cost Institute, like the UK, the government actually employs doctors and owns hospitals. Others, like Australia, have a universal public insurance program.

Even the Netherlands, which has a fully privatized insurance scheme, has placed more government controls on prices than the United States. Insurers there use global budgets, also common in single-payer systems, to pay providers, capping the amount they’re willing to pay per year to cover all of the services their customers need. It’s a hard limit on health care spending for the coming year, and then providers and payers negotiate prices for individual services based on that budget cap. It’s very different from private insurance in the United States, which is generally open-ended depending on how much medical care is used in a given year — and the price for those services.

Because of America’s high prices, there is a $3.5 trillion industry invested in the status quo.”