By Dr. Yanira Cruz
April 11, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
Older Americans and patients are calling out for reform in our prescription drug market and to the credit of lawmakers, both sides of the aisle seem to be listening. In our highly polarized world of politics, it’s not often that you see bipartisan cooperation working on substantive solutions. But thanks to the work of advocates, older Americans and their families, true progress is being made to address patients’ concerns at the pharmacy.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently proposed changes to the structure of the Medicare prescription drug benefit known as Part D, fixing a currently complex system of negotiated rebates or discounts that rarely make it to patients to help lower prescription drug costs. Instead of leaving this distribution of savings up to chance, the proposed rebate rule would require pharmaceutical manufacturers and industry middlemen, like insurance plans and pharmacy benefit managers, to share these discounts with older Americans at the pharmacy counter.
Unsurprisingly, this idea is extremely popular.
Recent polling from Morning Consult found that 68 percent of all voters supported this change, including 70 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of voters over the age of 65. Meanwhile, 51 percent of Hispanic voters supported the proposed rule. Those responses were their initial reactions, and once they delved into the details, support continued to climb. After learning the pros and cons of the rebate rule, including trade-offs like a small premium increase for making medicines at the pharmacy counter more affordable, 76 percent voters overall supported these reforms, as well as 63 percent of Hispanic voters.
Voters want to see savings at the pharmacy counter, and they want to see the value of their insurance dollars go further. The fact that individuals’ support for these changes only grows as they learn more about the proposal is critical. This growing popularity shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, it’s a common-sense solution that has the potential to quickly help patients in desperate need of relief.
When looking at the long-term reforms needed to make our health care system work on behalf of all patients, increasing access through greater affordability remains a chief concern. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition, such as diabetes, which often require regular prescription medications for proper management. Unfortunately, for far too many Hispanic older adults, access to critical treatment regimens remains an obstacle. The rebate rule’s reforms that could reduce patients’ out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy could go a long way toward bridging gaps in our health care system to deliver the quality treatment that older Americans deserve.
Too often, the health care and drug pricing debates in Washington overlook the needs and desires of patients, their families and the caregivers who look after them. Voters across the political spectrum support the policy changes laid out in the rebate rule precisely because of their simplicity.
Our leaders have a chance to fix our broken rebate system in a bipartisan manner, to support reform that could positively change the health care realities facing older Americans each and every day. The support for greater transparency and affordability in our prescription drug supply chain will only continue to grow, and it’s time for lawmakers to work with HHS to see that this rule is finalized on behalf of patients everywhere.
Dr. Yanira Cruz is the president and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging and also serves on the boards of the Consumer Health Foundation and the American Society on Aging.
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