Obama sending mixed message on Medicare prescription prices

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Prescription drug prices are likely to resurface as a hot political potato in the looming presidential race, beginning with the president's recent bombshell that he wants to let Medicare bargain on drug prices.

In introducing his current fiscal budget proposal, President Obama asked Congress to make it legal to allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug manufacturers. This is a “paradoxical” request, given the president's simultaneous call for the scientific and research communities to aggressively work as one developing so-called “precision drugs” that could better treat or even cure cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and other illnesses, The New York Times reported Monday.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., told the newspaper that while such drugs could substantially lower costs in the long run, seniors in the short term would bear the brunt of their projected high cost.

A year's worth of one cystic fibrosis drug, for example, costs $311,000. And Gleevec, a targeted therapy to treat a certain type of chronic myeloid leukemia, costs a whopping $9,210 a month, the paper added.

Recent efforts have been afoot to address the high cost of drugs on the government's side, but seemingly little on the consumer's side. For example, the OIG told Congress last month that providers could have saved the government $6 million more than the $13 million they saved throughout most of 2014 by additional drug substitutions under Medicare Part B.

Meanwhile, the president's urgent call to allow CMS to negotiate drug prices could be great news for their biggest consumers. According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, seniors represent just over 13% of the population But they consume 40% of prescription drugs and 35% of all over-the-counter drugs. On average, individuals 65 to 69 years old take nearly 14 prescriptions per year, while individuals aged 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year.

During negotiations that preceded repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate formula earlier this month, Medicare Rights Center President Joe Baker urged Congress to secure lower prices on Medicare prescription drugs.