House to Vote on Bill To Reduce Prescription Drug Costs for Medicare Part D Enrollees

According to a recent article by AARP, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote in December on a bill that would lower the costs of prescription drugs for Medicare Part D enrollees. The bill, known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019, would require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to negotiate prices and cap out-of-pocket expenses.

Among other features, the bill would cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $2,000 per year for enrollees in Medicare Part D. Prescription drug costs

How Will the Bill in Congress Lower Drug Costs?

The bill was introduced in the House on Sept. 19. House leadership is waiting until the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) completes a full analysis of the legislation before scheduling a vote on the floor. An initial analysis of the measure determined it would save Medicare $345 billion over the course of 10 years, cutting the cost of the drug program by approximately 25 percent.

A separate report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services indicated that patients in non-Medicare households would save $158 billion during the same 10-year time frame.

What Does the Bill To Do Help Patients Facing High Drug Costs?

Under the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services would negotiate the price of at least 35 medications that cost Medicare the most money and do not have at least two generic competitors. Additionally, DHS would be required to negotiate the price of insulin.

The authors of the legislation note that the per-patient cost of insulin almost doubled between 2012 and 2016. Supporters of the bill say that commercial insurers would also be able to take advantage of the negotiated prices.

What Do Critics Say About the Prescription Drug Bill?

Members of the House who criticize the bill claim it would hinder research and development for new cures and medications. Supporters of the bill deny this premise.

A former executive director of the board that advises Medicare on policy issues told members of the Ways and Means Committee that pharmaceutical companies spend considerably more on marketing and other expenses than they do on research and development. Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal added that patients in the United States pay, on average, four times as much for the same prescriptions as consumers in other countries, and that drug companies continue to reap enormous profits.

Will the Prescription Drug Bill Pass and Become Law?

Ways and Means members also approved separate measures that would use savings from the bill to pay for the addition of vision, dental, and hearing benefits to Medicare Part B. (Medicare Part B covers appointments with physicians and other outpatient services.)

While some Medicare Advantage plans already provide limited vision, dental, and hearing coverage, the bill would make all enrollees eligible for such benefits.

The vote on sending the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 to the full House was 24-17 in favor — not exactly a landslide. While the measure has been approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Education and Labor Committee, the bill’s passage in the House is far from certain.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Finance Committee has approved a prescription drug bill that differs from the House measure.

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