PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: Two More Bills Would Lower Costs
House Commerce health and environment subcommittee members Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) each introduced bills yesterday that would counter skyrocketing prescription drug costs, CongressDaily reports. Bilirakis, chair of the subcommittee, joined Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) to introduce a bill that would add limited prescription drug coverage to Medicare and encourages states to expand or develop "drug assistance programs" for Medicare beneficiaries living below 200% of the poverty level. Under the legislation, Medicare would create a "stop loss" program that would cover drug costs beyond $1,500. After seniors surpassed that spending threshold, Medicare would serve as a re-insurer of benefits delivered through the beneficiaries' private drug plan. "This could go into effect now," Bilirakis said, distinguishing his bill from others that are folded into Congress' Medicare reform debate.
Brown, ranking member on the subcommittee, "takes a much different approach" in his Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, which would give the government the authority to force price competition for those drugs considered to provide a substantial health benefit but that carry price tags deemed to be "excessive." Generic manufacturers would be able to produce versions of brand-name drugs still under patent protections, but they would pay royalties until the patent expired (Rovner, 9/23). Brown's bill would also require drug manufacturers to publicly disclose audited financial information relevant to the pricing of their drugs. Companies that fail to comply would be ineligible to participate in federal health care programs. "American drug companies have had it good for a long time," Brown said, adding "But these good times have been at the expense of people who cannot afford to pay absurdly high prescription drug prices." He said that drug prices can be slashed without having a chilling effect on pharmaceutical companies' research and development budgets. On the other hand, he said, "these prices cannot remain high without seriously affecting public health and fueling unsustainable health care inflation." Reps. Tom Allen (D-ME), Marion Berry (D-AR), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) joined Brown in unveiling the legislation yesterday (Brown release, 9/23).
Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Receipts
In other Medicare news, Rep. Ken Lucas (D-KY) "is enlisting the help of [Ohio] senior citizens in his bid to have Medicare cover a portion of prescription drug costs. He's asking senior constituents to send him copies of their drug bills, which he hopes will help convince Congress to move on the issue. He said the gambit will "show Congress that we need to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors, that we need prescription drug coverage now." He added, "I'm going to do all I can to pass a prescription drug benefit for seniors. I'm hoping that evidence of the high cost of drugs for seniors will help convince the obstructionists in Congress how real the problem is" (Crowley, Cincinnati Enquirer, 9/24).