Government should be able to lower Medicare prescription drug prices, panel says

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Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI)
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI)

Further legislation is needed to empower the federal government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices in Medicare, a bipartisan panel concluded Thursday. 

In a hearing of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, which is chaired by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) , committee members discussed pending legislation would allow the government to negotiate prices of prescription drugs in Medicare Part D. This legislation would require prescription drug makers to discount medications to low-income Medicare recipients and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices in Medicare Part B when it is the majority purchaser, the Bureau of National Affairs reported.

In the hearing, Kohl noted that the drug prices in the United States are 30% higher than in 33 other industrialized countries, at a cost of about $300 billion, with more than a third of that amount paid by Medicare and Medicaid. Kohl asked Jonathan Blum, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service's deputy administrator for Medicare, to explain the difference in costs.

Blum stated that other countries “‘have a different statutory framework,' including ‘very strict statutory formularies' that do not apply in the United States,” the Bureau of National Affairs reported.

Kohl spoke of a recent discovery on age-related macular degeneration drugs Lucentis and Avastin that showed both are equally effective. While Medicare pays for both, Lucentis costs up to $2,000 per injection while Avastin can be less than $50 per dose.

The committee offered several recommendations. They include reducing prescriptions of dangerous drugs to nursing home residents; getting generic drugs to the market sooner and allowing CMS to pay the same price for drugs that are similar.
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