Finally, after much talk-talk and delays, a bill that lowers prescription drug prices for Medicare Part D enrollees was sent to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The bill requires the program to negotiate prices and cap out-of-pocket costs.
The Ways and Means Committee approved HR 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019, a bill that many health advocate organizations support.
The bill caps out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses for Medicare Part D enrollees at $2,000 per year.
Lawmakers voted 24 to 17 to send HR 3 to the full House for a vote. Last week the measure was approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. House leaders say they plan a vote on the bill in the coming weeks. In the Senate, the Finance Committee already approved a prescription drug bill that differs from the House measure. Reconciliation of the differences between the two bills is expected.
House Bill: Key Features
The House Bill has these key features:
Each year the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will negotiate the price of at least 35 medicines that cost Medicare the most money. To be eligible, these drugs must not have at least two generic competitors.
In addition, HHS will negotiate the price of insulin, a medication whose cost per patient nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016. Commercial insurers would also be able to take advantage of the negotiated prices.
House members critical of the legislation say this bill inhibits research and development for new cures and medications. Mark Miller, a former executive director that advises Medicare on policy issues, disagrees. He says that drug companies spend much more on marketing and other costs than on R & D and therefore they still will be profitable even if this law is enacted.
Also approved were separate measures that will use savings from HR 3 to pay for the addition of dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare Part B, which now only covers doctor visits and other outpatient services. Under this proposal all enrollees will be eligible for these benefits.
Passage of this measure by both the House and Senate will save the U.S. government huge amounts of money. For example, according to the Congressional Budget office (CBO), this measure saves Medicare $345 billion over the next 10 years. And, it also cuts drug program costs by 25 percent.
A separate analysis from CMS, shows patients in non-Medicare households saving $158 billion over the next 10 years.
Keep an eye on the upcoming House vote.