Herald-Whig View

Congress, states seek fix for high drug costs

Posted: Feb. 11, 2019 10:00 am

MOMENTUM is building for both federal and state lawmakers to help control the rising cost of prescription drugs.

President Donald Trump has long been a proponent of reining in the cost of pharmaceuticals.

He emphasized his stance anew during the State of the Union speech, winning applause and interest from Democrats.

"It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it. We will stop it fast," Trump said. "I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that prescription drug costs rose more than 28 percent between 2012 and 2017. While that's an overall average, some drug prices more than tripled, and news reports have led to blowback against the pharmaceutical industry.

Committees in the U.S. House and Senate have been considering ways to slow or halt the rising prices. On Thursday, Democrats in the U.S. House unveiled a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Unfortunately, previous efforts have not gotten much traction.

Health and Human Services recently announced a draft regulation that would allow drug manufacturers to offer discount prices directly to consumers. However, it would not give those same price cuts to Medicaid managed care organizations or pharmacy benefit managers.

Lawmakers in at least 41 states have lost patience with Congress and are looking for their own solutions, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

There are a number of different approaches to the problem. Chief among state options are measures that would allow Medicaid agencies to negotiate with drug manufacturers.

Insurance carriers and other entities are allowed to negotiate the price of certain medicines. However, Medicare, the largest health care program in the nation, is not allowed to seek lower drug prices under rules laid out in the enabling legislation for Medicare Part D, which became law 16 years ago.

There are valid arguments on both sides of this debate. Those who oppose federal or state negotiations say it would infringe on the free market system and become a slippery slope.

Proponents counter that since drug companies already negotiate with other large entities, the damage should not be overwhelming.

Rules that would make drug prices transparent may be a lower hanging fruit that could win approval. Yet more work will be needed to solve the problem.

With growing momentum among Republicans and Democrats, federal officials and the vast majority of state legislatures, it looks as if solutions may finally be within reach.