Infectious Disease

HHS ‘plan to cut prescription drug costs is a good start, but we need bold and swift action

September 14, 2021

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Kuwahara reports that he serves on the National Affordability Steering Committee for Prescription Drugs at Doctors for America.


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HHS recently announced a law support plan that would allow it to negotiate drug prices for Medicare Part B and Part D directly with drug companies and then make those prices available to other buyers, in addition to other major policy proposals to lower the drug Drug costs.

In this guest editorial Rita K. Kuwahara, MD, MIH, a Primary Care Health Policy Fellow and Internal Medicine Physician at Georgetown University, comments on the HHS plan and how affordable drugs would allow providers to shift their focus from reactive care to preventive medicine, which in turn drives health outcomes would improve and affect overall health care costs.

As a family doctor, I’ve seen firsthand how having access to affordable medicines can make the difference between life and death for my patients.

For my diabetic patients who need insulin to survive, it is unacceptable that their ability to live or die depends on the type of prescription drug insurance coverage and whether they can afford the skyrocketing cost of insulin.

We are at a critical time when our nation is able to make medicines affordable for all, but it is important that we put health above politics and show that as a nation we aim to make sure everyone is able to access the drugs they need when they need them.

The Biden-Harris administration should be commended for its leadership and commitment to lowering prescription drug prices. This is a great first step, but much more can and should be done, and the power to do so is power.

Everyone in our country now needs access to affordable medicines and we cannot afford to wait. We are currently in the midst of a pandemic that has made access to vital medicines financially impossible for many people who have lost their jobs and employer-funded health insurance, and will cost lives inactivity.

Pharmaceutical companies have benefited from the poor health of individuals for too long and benefited from generous policies that allow their profits to grow unchecked. For example, pharmaceutical companies set drug prices; Unlike other high-income countries, the United States does not negotiate these prices, resulting in prescription drug costs that are 2.5 times higher than other high-income countries, according to a report by RAND Corporation. Even during the pandemic, a recent AARP report found that “between 2019 and 2020, retail prices for 260 widely used branded prescription drugs rose 2.9 percent, more than twice the rate of general inflation”.

While I hope Congress will be able to come together and pass comprehensive laws to make medicines affordable for everyone in our country, it is vital for the government to use the full power of the executive to make sure that everyone has access to affordable, life-saving medicines whenever they need them, because disease is never planned and health should not be a commodity but a human right.

It only makes sense that in a free market economy, Medicare should be able to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs, and since drug companies are already benefiting from taxpayers’ money to support initial drug development, mechanisms should be put in place to keep patients ingested extra Limit – Pocket money for prescription drugs.

With the current model, it should be noted that patients often end up paying two to three times as much for their medication. They pay through their taxes that support NIH funding initially, as all 356 drugs approved by the FDA between 2010 and 2019 were supported by NIH funding. Our patients pay a second time through their health insurance premiums, which continue to rise with the rising cost of health care in the United States. They will then be charged a third time when they pick up their medication from the pharmacy.

The out-of-pocket drug costs that families pay at the pharmacy counter have also risen, as the co-payments increasingly depend on the tiered pricing of the medication, rising health insurance deductibles, and increasing shifts in co-payments to percentages of patient co-insurance for the purchase of their prescription drugs .

With access to affordable medicines essential to maintaining good health, we must now take bold and determined action to reduce the cost of prescription medicines and make medicines affordable for everyone so that every one of our patients and everyone in our community has access on the medication he needs.

As a member of the National Prescription Drug Affordability Steering Committee at Doctors for America, my colleagues and I have continued to advocate strategies for lowering drug costs for our patients through executive and legislative action.

While HHS secretary Xavier Becerras Confirmation Process Earlier this year, Doctors for America sent key drug affordability questions to the Senate Finance Committee to consult with Becerra, highlighting some of the issues the government has the authority to act on. These included advocating the use of the “federal agency to enforce treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 to ensure affordable access for all”, the commitment “to all available mechanisms (to ensure that Americans do not continue to get bad business from.” Get pharmaceutical companies denying access to life-saving treatments and vaccines they are real investors in “ensure that” NIH and FDA enforce penalties for failures and delays in reporting clinical trial results. “” Supports “efforts to ensure that Medicare and other insurers can negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to reduce the cost of all prescription drugs ”and“ offer a total of 5 years of exclusivity for all biological drugs instead of the previous 12 years that have led to exorbitantly high monopoly prices for them Be actions. “

These specific proposals, some of which have already been adopted by the government, are examples of measures that can be used to create a framework for action that the government can take to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for everyone in our country .

It is not fair that our current system should prioritize profit over health, which means we see patients every day who cannot afford their drugs. We urgently need access to affordable medicines for all so that we can improve the health of our nation.

This becomes even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many families can no longer afford the drugs they need due to exhausted finances and the loss or change in insurance coverage. At the same time, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has given us a glimpse of how we can improve public health and the health of our communities by making health care accessible and affordable for all.

For the first time as a practicing doctor in the US, when patients come to me and need to get vaccinated against COVID-19, I can now tell them that regardless of insurance type, solvency or type there is a lot of money in their bank account , simply because, as taxpayers, they have already paid for the development, purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, and the vaccines that the state bought with taxpayers’ money are now available to patients at no additional cost. That was crucial, especially as we are trying to increase vaccination rates to keep everyone safe. If only we had the same luxury of giving diabetes patients access to insulin, for example, we would not die or develop serious complications because they had to ration their insulin or forego taking it altogether.

With the government and taxpayers already investing significant funds in the development and distribution of the vaccines, regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, the government should be able to negotiate the price of the vaccines due to large-scale vaccination campaigns across the country In an effort to contain the current pandemic, rather than having to pay ever higher prices for the vaccines as manufacturers arbitrarily raise the price, which will ultimately increase healthcare spending and taxpayer costs.

It is critical that we as a nation make medicines affordable for all so that we can practice preventive medicine rather than reactive care while reducing the overall cost of health care by focusing on achieving improved health outcomes so that everyone is healthy enough to to live, work and care for their families.

As doctors, we must give voice to our patients and use our power to communicate our patients’ experience that they cannot afford essential drugs in order to advocate reform of prescription drug pricing.

It is very encouraging that the government has made a commitment to lower prescription drug prices, but now, more than ever, it is vital that the government and Congress act swiftly to bring about comprehensive policy reform with the full authority of the executive and public through strong legislative efforts to improve access to affordable medicines for all so we can keep our communities and families healthy and improve the health of our nation.


Editor’s note: This interview reflects the views and opinions of Kuwahara and not its affiliations or institutions.


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