Big Pharma Tries To Slip Benefit Into Senate Opioid Package

By Kelly Burch 09/27/18

“Big Pharma is trying to hijack the bill and turn it into a giant pharmaceutical company bailout,” said Senator Tina Smith (D-Minnesota).

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Pharmaceutical companies are attempting to inject $4 billion in savings for themselves into opioid legislation being considered in Congress. 

A package of bills meant to address the opioid epidemic have passed both the House and Senate, and the two bodies are now working together to craft a version that both can agree on.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, has tried to get a clause added to the bill that would reduce the discount that pharmaceutical companies need to offer Medicare beneficiaries whose spending on drugs falls into the coverage gap, according to The New York Times.  

“We have a good bipartisan opioids bill and we need to get it signed into law. But now Big Pharma is trying to hijack the bill and turn it into a giant pharmaceutical company bailout,” Senator Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) said in a Twitter post.

Right now, pharmaceutical companies are required to discount brand-name drugs 50% for people in the coverage gap. Next year, the discount is set to increase to 70%. The increased discount was initially designed to reduce federal spending on Medicare’s drug benefit by $7.7 billion through 2027.

However, after the law was passed increasing the discount, the Congressional Budget Office raised its estimate of the savings to $11.8 billion. Because of this, PhRMA would like the discount reduced to cover only the $7.7 billion savings, calling the updated level a “technical error.” 

The AARP said that PhRMA’s proposal “will increase prescription drug costs for older Americans while providing a windfall of billions of dollars to the drug industry.”

The prescription drug discount has nothing to do with the opioid crisis—but because there is broad bipartisan support for passing the opioid legislation quickly, PhRMA is trying to slip its desired changes into the bill while it has momentum, the Times noted. 

“We are focused on ensuring Medicare Part D is secure for the future by correcting a technical error” by the Congressional Budget Office, said Stephen J. Ubl, the president and chief executive of PhRMA.

However, most people outside PhRMA disagree. 

“In the context of the current debate, I would not roll back the drug discounts,” said Mark E. Miller, the former executive director of a federal commission that advises Congress on Medicare. “We need broader changes in the structure of Medicare’s drug benefit. If the discounts are rolled back, patients and taxpayers should get something in return, to bring more competition to the market and drive down drug prices.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.