On November 20, 2015, Center staff attended a one day symposium hosted by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) entitled “HHS Pharmaceutical Forum: Innovation, Access, Affordability & Better Health.” The forum featured HHS Secretary Burwell, Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Andy Slavitt, consumer advocates, pharmaceutical company chiefs and others. A recording of the forum is available at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLrl7E8KABz1G1mxcJg6MxcVzXndRT-7CL.
The pharmaceutical forum included data from the Kaiser Family Foundation showing overwhelming public support for making sure that high-cost drugs for chronic conditions are affordable to those who need them, and a significant majority of the public from both major political parties supporting government intervention to address high drug costs. While discussions included how to strike a balance between innovation and the affordability of drugs, Debra Whitman, chief public policy officer at AARP summed up much of the discussion by stating “Medical innovation is meaningless if nobody can afford it.” For more, see the November 21, 2015 New York Times article by Robert Pear.
While it remains to be seen if either this Administration or Congress will act to address high drug costs, a number of potential policy options regarding affordability were raised. The Center for Medicare Advocacy has long advocated for fair drug pricing, not only to help Medicare beneficiaries afford needed drugs, but to help the Medicare program’s finances. Even with drug coverage through Medicare Part D, many people struggle to – or simply cannot – afford their medications. This is particularly true for specialty drugs for which those who reach the catastrophic cap still have to pay 5% of costs. We are pleased that drug prices are getting more public attention; now policymakers must act.