Just more than three weeks ago, on Election Day, voters send a clear message to politicians against price controls on prescription drugs. President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Sylvia Burwell, asked Congress to give her department the authority to negotiate prices on pharmaceutical products. The candidate most opposed to this proposed policy, Donald Trump, was elected president. Additionally, voters in California, that voted solidly for Hillary Clinton for president, rejected a ballot initiative called the Drug Price Standards Initiative that would have allowed the state of California to implement price controls on prescription drugs. Clearly the voters send a message against price controls on drugs, that perhaps has not been heard on Capitol Hill.
Some in Congress still would give HHS the authority to implement price controls on prescription drugs. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) believes instead the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage is working and has introduced H.R. 5336, a bill to suspend the Medicare Prescription Drug late enrollment penalty and allow seniors to enroll in the program past the May 15 deadline without penalty.
“Seniors have been signing up for Medicare Part D in record numbers,” said Price. “We should not penalize seniors who still need time to make this very personal and important choice to enroll in the correct Medicare Part D plan. As a doctor for over 25 years, I know well that patients often need time to make decisions. Enrolling in a Part D plan can save seniors hundreds of dollars. I encourage all of my colleagues to support giving all seniors that opportunity without penalty.”
According to HHS, more than 37 million American seniors have enrolled in Medicare Part D, exceeding the estimations of the George W. Bush Administration. Competition is lowering costs, with average premium at bout $35 per month, down from the prior estimates of $37 per month. A U.S. Chambers of Commerce study reports that 84 percent of seniors are satisfied with the program. A Washington Post-ABC News poll demonstrated that a majority of the seniors who have enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug benefit say the paperwork was not difficult to fill out and that the benefit saves them money; An AARP survey showed nearly eight in 10 (78 percent) of those enrolled in a prescription drug plan say the new benefit is meeting or exceeding their expectations.
HHS negotiations won’t lower Medicare Drug Prices. The Democrats “are trying to fix something that’s not broken,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, (R-GA), a physician. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who also is a physician, added that negotiations between health insurers and drug companies and pharmacies have already resulted in lower prices. “All we’ll get is harm to patients — higher costs, fewer drugs available [on limited formularies] and less quality health care,” he said. Implementing price controls similar to the Veterans Affairs Department approach would limits choices available for seniors, argued several House Republicans.
Rep. Price issued a statement regarding the Democrats proposed plan to force HHS to implement prescription drug price controls under Medicare Plan D.
“The Democrats claim that their plan to establish drug prices will lower costs for our seniors and the government. This is not only disingenuous, it is irresponsible,” said Price. “If the government is forced to fix prescription drug prices, they will be forced to limit the medications available. Limited choice will mean limited health care, and that is unacceptable. Government established drug prices will negatively affect the availability of current medications. 1970s-styled price caps will be a disincentive to offer new and innovative medications. Additionally, the government will undercut the free market, which has continually proven more adept at lowering expenses. With this vote the Democrats effectively just told physicians what drugs they can and cannot prescribe to their patients.
Price controls will only limit choices available and lower the quality of health care. Price controls do not work, and clearly the voters sent the message against them on Election Day earlier this month. Politicians in Washington D.C. have yet to hear the message, and follow the mandate of voters and reject price controls. It is long overdue time that they get the message.