Balancing senior health care and fiscal responsibility


Richard Hudson - Contributing Columnist



The rising cost of prescription drugs is a concern that seniors have brought to my attention throughout my time in Congress. As drug prices continue to rise, seniors, veterans and others are faced with the difficult challenge of paying the bills or paying for medicine. I continue to hear from folks who are unable to afford the medicine they need, and it’s a problem I’m working to solve.

As you know, many seniors access their drugs through the Medicare Part D program. MedPAC, the advisory panel to Congress on Medicare, reports that Medicare Part D has a 90 percent satisfaction rate with seniors. Part D sees this level of satisfaction because of the variety of plans, medications available and low costs. Every year, the prescription drug plans that participate in Medicare Part D engage with the drug manufacturers to negotiate drug prices for the coming year. Because of the large number of people these plans negotiate on behalf of — both in Part D and in other markets — they have significant leverage and can negotiate lower prices.

As a result, Part D costs 45 percent, or $349 billion, less than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s original 10-year projections. In addition, Part D remains only 10.9 percent of Medicare’s total spending. For seniors buying plans, this means premiums remain stable and cost half the amount projected when the program started.

Despite Part D’s success over the last 10 years, some politicians in Washington often call for the government to negotiate drug prices in Medicare Part D. This is despite CBO reaffirming that government negotiation will neither save Medicare nor seniors’ money. CBO maintains that the only way for the government to save money would be to limit beneficiary access to needed prescription medications.

America’s seniors deserve a solution in order to lower drug costs. The first thing we need to do is simplify the path for medication to get on the market. Right now, the typical amount of time for a drug to reach patients is between 10 and 20 years. This is a huge hurdle for many drug makers, and it delays patients — especially seniors — from accessing the drugs they need. Congress needs to support legislation that will improve the efficiency of the drug development pipeline and reduce bureaucratic hurdles at the FDA. This is why I co-sponsored and voted for the 21st Century Cures Act, an innovative approach to health care reform that will deliver better, faster and safer treatments and cures for diseases that currently lack effective therapies.

Through the negotiation process, plans leverage their most valuable asset, market share, to lower the cost of medicines. This directly benefits consumers. When Congress empowers a private market to thrive, as it did in 2006 with the implementation of Medicare Part D, consumers reap the benefits of selection, variety of choices and cheaper costs. We should continue to celebrate the success of the Part D program, not cripple the instrument of its success by taking away its most critical component: negotiation.

From working to make sure drug costs are affordable to saving vital safety net programs, I’ll continue to fight for fiscal responsibility in Washington so our government can keep its promises to today’s seniors and future generations.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-Concord, represents North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District, which currently includes Richmond County.

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Richard Hudson

Contributing Columnist

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