CMS Preparing to Issue New Regulations for Rx Drug Plan
CMS plans to issue "broad new regulations" in about 10 days on the Bush administration's plan to issue prescription discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries, CMS Administrator Thomas Scully said yesterday at a congressional briefing sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform. The Hartford Courant reports that while Scully did not provide specifics, another Medicare official said the regulations would offer additional details on "how the program would work and how savings would be achieved" (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 11/20). Under the proposed plan, the federal government would approve discount cards issued by pharmacy benefit managers, which would use the purchasing power of Medicare beneficiaries to negotiate with pharmacies and drug makers to reach discounts of between 15% to 25% off of drugs' retail prices (California Healthline, 7/16). Scully said, "The (Bush) administration is going to press forward very hard to get this thing done" (Hartford Courant, 11/20). On Sept. 6, District Court Judge Paul Friedman issued an injunction against the program in response to a lawsuit brought by pharmacist groups alleging that the administration lacks the authority to implement the plan without congressional approval and violated federal rules by drafting the plan without open meetings or a public comment period. Earlier this month, Friedman lifted the injunction that prevented the start of the program (California Healthline, 11/8). However, after lifting the injunction, Friedman issued an "unusual clarifying memo," saying that he stayed the injunction to allow CMS to "revise" the plan. Friedman wrote that the administration was "not pursuing its original plan. Instead (Medicare) will be proposing a new policy on the issue." Scully said the new regulation is intended to comply with the court order. If Friedman approves the regulation, Scully said the program could begin as early as March (Hartford Courant, 11/20).
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which brought the lawsuit, also participated in yesterday's forum. NACDS President and CEO Craig Fuller said discount cards typically shift seniors to mail order pharmacies and prevent them from meeting "face-to-face" with a pharmacist. He added, "[N]either the prescription care programs currently in place nor the administration's plan offer real Medicare reform." Instead, Congress should pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit that would offer a "permanent solution" for drug costs for seniors, Fuller said (NACDS release, 11/19). However, Scully said that the administration does not view the discount cards as the "answer to prescription drugs." At yesterday's forum, Scully also "encouraged" Congress to pass legislation that would block any legal attempts to derail the discount card plan (Hartford Courant, 11/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.