Seniors Win, Drug Companies Lose With Excluded Provision In Congress’s Finalized Opioid Package

Evie Fordham | Politics and Health Care Reporter

Drug industry lobbyists tried and failed to insert a provision that would give them a $4 billion windfall in a finalized bipartisan bill designed to combat the opioid crisis that is all but guaranteed to pass through both the House and Senate.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) attempted to mitigate a February bipartisan budget law that will require drug manufacturers to give 70 percent discounts on brand-name drugs to some Medicare beneficiaries starting in 2019, according to The New York Times.

Groups including the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the American Hospital Association protested against adding in the provision and wrote a letter to congressional leaders, reported The Washington Post.

“Tying a bailout for the pharmaceutical industry to any legislative efforts will come at the expense of patients and taxpayers and send the exact opposite message — especially if the purpose of the vehicle is to help Americans fight opioid addiction, an epidemic that the drug companies themselves helped create in the first place,” the groups stated in the letter, according to WaPo.

The provision PhRMA wanted slipped into the opioid bill would have increased the discount to 63 percent starting in 2019, compared to the current 50 percent discount, reported TheNYT, but not as large as the previous proposal of 70 percent.

“We are focused on ensuring Medicare Part D is secure for the future by correcting a technical error,” PhRMA president and CEO Stephen J. Ubl said, according to TheNYT. The “technical correction” that Ubl referred to had to do with the Congressional Budget Office’s breakdown of savings under the February budget bill.

The CBO found it could cut federal Medicare spending by nearly $12 billion through 2027 after an original estimate of nearly $8 billion, TheNYT reported. Drug lobbyists wanted the difference given back to them through lower drug discount rates.

Insurers were also in the mix fighting against the potential PhRMA provision. Health insurers will pay for 5 percent of those drug costs under the February budget bill and would like to keep paying much less than the drug companies, reported TheNYT. (RELATED: Trump Gets Behind Senate Bill That Would End Gag Orders Against Pharmacists Sharing Money-Saving Info)

The House and Senate agreed upon a 660-page reconciled version of the bill Tuesday evening after it passed the House 396 to 14 and the Senate 99 to 1, reported TheNYT. A timeline on when Congress will vote on the final bill has not been announced.

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