Pharmacists Say Medicare Drug Benefit Affects Income
Pharmacists are losing money under the Medicare prescription drug benefit because of slow and inadequate payments from drug plans, a group of pharmacists from Texas told Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser, in a meeting at the White House last week, the New York Times reports. Many independent pharmacies might have to close because of the payment problems, the pharmacists said.
Bill Pittman -- chair of Pharmacists for Bush, a political fund-raising group -- arranged the meeting. Pittman, who is a former president of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, said he told Rove, "If pharmacists don't receive immediate relief, some will go broke. Others are hurting so bad that they will choose not to participate in Medicare and Medicaid."
Richard Beck, a pharmacist who participated in the meeting, said Medicare drug plans often take 30 days or more to pay pharmacies, compared with payments within seven to 15 days for Medicaid and commercial insurance plans.
The pharmacists presented a report to Rove and Allan Hubbard, assistant to the president for economic policy.
The report says, "Pharmacists want to be supportive of this administration, and they can play an active role in the midterm elections. But pharmacists need to be able to point to some corrective actions being taken by the administration." It adds that "[m]ost independent community pharmacists are small-business Republicans."
The pharmacists presented several recommendations for changes to the drug benefit, including that:
- The federal government should require payment by electronic transfer every week or 10 days;
- Medicare should provide pharmacists with a financial incentive to dispense generic drugs rather than brand-name drugs; and
- Medicare drug plans should not be allowed to advertise a specific drug store on beneficiary identification cards. The pharmacists said such an action suggests that beneficiaries cannot fill prescriptions at other pharmacies.
White House spokesperson Trent Duffy said, "From our perspective, it was a positive, productive meeting." He added, "We want to understand the concerns of pharmacists. They play a critical role in delivery of the drug benefit. At the same time, we want to make sure that seniors are getting the best possible deal."
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said he thought payment problems for pharmacists had been resolved but added that he would investigate the complaints (Pear, New York Times, 3/13).
In related news, the group Americans United has launched a campaign to "attack" the Medicare prescription drug benefit, Roll Call reports. The group's "Campaign to Fix Bush's Part D Disaster," which is estimated to cost $3 million to $5 million, is funded by AFL-CIO; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; National Education Association; USAction; Campaign for America's Future; and other organizations that supported a similar campaign last year to oppose Bush's Social Security plan. The new campaign will include television ads from supporters, press conferences and hearings in several states.
AU spokesperson Brad Woodhouse said the group is coordinating the campaign with Democratic lawmakers.
The group held conference calls with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week, Roll Call reports.
Ron Bonjean, spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said, "The campaign is meant to take away the lower prescription drug costs that seniors enjoy under the program" (Newmyer, Roll Call, 3/13).
The Chicago Tribune on Monday examined how Democrats and Republicans "are furiously vying for older Americans' support as they argue over" the drug benefit and Social Security. Democrats are hoping frustration with the drug benefit will mobilize support among older voters in the midterm elections this fall, while many Republicans say problems with the drug benefit are being resolved and will not hurt their prospects in the election, the Tribune reports (Zuckman, Chicago Tribune, 3/13).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.