Pharmacy Groups File Suit Over Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacist Association yesterday filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to block implementation of President Bush's prescription drug prescription drug discount card plan for Medicare beneficiaries, the Wall Street Journal reports. The two industry groups argue that the administration lacks the "authority" to implement the plan without congressional approval (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 7/18). Under the 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. Participating PBMs would direct seniors to specific drugstores, create preferred drug lists, fill prescriptions by mail and operate telephone call centers to answer consumers' questions. To participate in the plan, seniors would pay a one-time enrollment fee not to exceed $25. The pharmacy groups say that the plan forces pharmacies to "shoulder ... discounts" without requiring drug makers to lower prices. Their suit says the administration violates federal rules by drafting the plan without open meetings or a public comment period. Larry Kocot, NACDS' general counsel, said, "This was all done in secret, backroom deals. The process specifically excluded a number of other players in the marketplace, including seniors and pharmacists." HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (formerly HCFA) head Thomas Scully have been named in the suit. An HHS spokesperson "declined to comment" on the lawsuit, but said that "the administration fully backs the discount card as a way to provide seniors immediate relief on drug costs" (Wall Street Journal, 7/18).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.