HealthCare Roundtable e-News – July 16, 2020

Prescription Drug Prices Continue to Rise Amid the Pandemic, Data Shows

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical companies have continued to hike up prescription drug prices across the country. Data from GoodRx shows that pharmaceutical companies logged more than 800 price increases so far this year and adjusted the cost of 43 medicines upward by an average of 3.5 percent in July.

Most drug manufacturers will typically increase their prices twice a year (in January and mid-year), but some have delayed or staggered increases over the course of the last few months. Since 2014, drug prices have increased by 33%, outpacing price hikes for any other commodity or service. The most recent report on pandemic drug activity showed that the number of branded drugs seeing hikes this month was higher than last year.

“Business as usual is a problem in a pandemic. These price increases contribute nothing to innovation, but greatly to suffering. These aren’t new drugs,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of the Global Access to Medicines Program at consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

The Trump administration has made efforts to tackle drug pricing and increased transparency across the industry without much success; plans to require drugmaker television ads to include pricing information, rules to eliminate rebates that drug manufacturers give to payers, and the concept of an international pricing index have either stalled or been struck down by lower courts. The administration is currently working on a Buy-American executive order, according to trade advisor Peter Navarro, as well as a proposed rule to encourage insurers to negotiate deals that pay drug makers based on how well the drugs work. (InsideHealthPolicy)

HHS Eyeing COVID-19 Emergency Extension Before July 25 Expiration

Stakeholders and health care provider groups are looking to HHS to extend the COVID-19 public health emergency before the current emergency declaration expires on July 25th. An extension of the declaration would extend the emergency for another 90 days and would enable a continuation of payment policies and regulatory adjustments.

Michael Caputo, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public affairs, confirmed on Twitter last week that the declaration would be extended, stating HHS “expects to renew the Public Health Emergency due to COVID-19 before it expires. We have already renewed this PHE once.”

HHS has instituted multiple programs to support providers in conjunction with the emergency declaration so far this year. Among the policies that will expire, should the declaration not be renewed, include a 20% Medicare add-on payment for inpatient COVID-19 cases, a boost of up to 6.2% in Medicaid matching funds from the federal government, a requirement that insurers cover COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing, and waivers of telehealth restrictions.

The House Ways & Means Committee has since requested that the Medicare Payment and Access Commission update its report on health issues in Medicare, particularly in rural areas and other underserved areas, in any upcoming analyses. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Stakeholders Anticipate Trump Administration’s Executive Order Detailing Drug Pricing Regulations

Drugmakers and industry players are awaiting an executive order from the Trump administration aiming to monitor and control drug pricing throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The White House initially expected to release the executive order earlier this year, a follow up to the president’s earlier promises on drug pricing regulation since he had taken office, but has since been delayed.

Prior to the pandemic, lawmakers had failed to garner support for bipartisan drug pricing legislation. Drug manufacturers are awaiting details on Trump’s executive orders which have not explicitly been shared but have been noted by Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff. Meadows stated that the orders will “substantially make sure that the average American gets to pay less for their prescription drugs.”

Last month, Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley shared his frustrations with a lack of motivation to tackle drug pricing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, stating that Democrats “have left the negotiating table” in pursuit of “political gain,” with Republicans “sitting on their hands” and “throwing the taxpayers we claim to champion under the bus.”

Biden Unveils Campaign Platform Addressing Drug Pricing, COVID-19, Universal Health Care

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced details of his campaign platform leading into the upcoming 2020 election last week with drug costs, boosting domestic drug and COVID-19 vaccine production and universal health care accessibility key components of his plan.

Biden’s platform includes allowing the reimportation of drugs, the elimination of tax breaks for prescription drug advertisements, and increasing funding for drug research at the National Institutes of Health. The campaign would also direct Medicare to negotiate prices of drugs that face little competition, using international prices as a reference, and the negotiated prices would be available to public and private insurers. Biden’s platform also would cap seniors’ out-of-pocket drug costs and limit drug price increases to the inflation rate. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Notably, Biden’s platform also includes policies to use the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to fund domestic drug production, which aligns with President Trump’s proposed Buy-American drug plan. The Biden campaign stated that the Trump administration “is still dragging its feet on using the DPA to produce urgently-needed supplies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and has fallen far short of the domestic mobilization we need.”