Can a Former Pharma Insider Solve Sky High Rx Costs?

HHS Secretary Alex Azar talked a good game in a Rose Garden ceremony and subsequent press conference—held Friday, May 11—on Trump Administration efforts to lower prescription drug costs for American patients.

Azar is, of course, a former executive of Eli Lilly. Can he be trusted to champion the interests of everyday Americans?

We will soon find out.  President Trump stated that Sec. Azar’s insider knowledge about the complex schemes to raise prices, perpetrated by industry middlemen, is exactly what makes him the right person for the job.

Watch the video of the Rose Garden Ceremony:

Although groups like Physicians Against Drug Shortages have been sounding the alarm for years, industry-led smoke and mirrors have, until recently, largely flown under the radar of the main-stream-media. Thankfully, respected outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times are now beginning to shine needed light on this malfeasance.

As these articles explain, a safe harbor to Medicare anti-kickback law is the major policy failure enabling the bad actors to line their pockets by driving up costs. The safe harbor legalizes kickbacks paid by manufacturers to Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and their cousins-in-crime Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs).

TownHall.com reports: Repealing the GPO/PBM safe harbor to Medicare anti-kickback law “would open the drug and medical supply segment of healthcare to free market competition and foster innovation. In addition, it would result in cost reductions estimated at $100 billion [actually more like $200 billion], including savings for the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

Congress initially enacted the GPO safe harbor in 1986. Then in 1987 Congress reaffirmed the measure, instructed HHS to implant the the safe harbor into regulation, and granted HHS authority to create additional safe harbors. In 2003 HHS OIG issued guidance clearing the way for PBMs to piggyback on the GPO safe harbor. Such guidance could theoretically be revised or rescinded by the HHS Secretary, without needing action by Congress.

And in their remarks today, both Trump and Azar mentioned that they will be looking at reining in such abusive practices.

Later in the press room, Azar explained that there are perverse incentives at play: “These big price increases are actually a good deal for pharmacy benefit managers, who are supposed to keep prices down.”

Video of White House Press Conference With Sec. Azar:

What is HHS going to do? They put out a 44-page blueprint of their plan:

https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/AmericanPatientsFirst.pdf

One step HHS announced it will implement immediately is a prohibition of Part D gag clauses, “preventing pharmacists’ telling patients when they could pay less out-of-pocket by not using insurance.”

Great words but let’s hope HHS doesn’t stop there. The blueprint is less clear about other action HHS will take related to PBMs, although it states HHS is considering:  “Measures to restrict the use of rebates, including revisiting the safe harbor under the Anti-Kickback statute for drug rebate.”

Rebates? Why does CMS use that euphemism? They are not rebates, they are legalized kickbacks.  Furthermore, rebates do not go to the patients, they flow to the PBM and insurance companies.

Unfortunately, HHS has a poor track record when it comes to using it’s existing authority to stop PBM abuse. The Government Accountability Office reports: “since 2004, [HHS] has not routinely exercised its authority to request and review disclosures” that PBMs are required to make available to comply with the safe harbor.

HHS promises there will be an opportunity for the public to comment through a “Request for Information.”

HHS appears to be asking the right questions, including:

“Do PBM rebates and fees based on the percentage of the list price create an incentive to favor higher list prices (and the potential for higher rebates) rather than lower prices?”

and

“Should PBMs be obligated to act solely in the interest of the entity for whom they are managing pharmaceutical benefits? Should PBMs be forbidden from receiving any payment or remuneration from manufacturers, and should PBM contracts be forbidden from including rebates or fees calculated as a percentage of list prices? What effect would imposing this fiduciary duty on PBMs on behalf of the ultimate payer (i.e.,
consumers) have on PBMs’ ability to negotiate drug prices?”

When details become available about the comment opportunity we will ask that all patients and doctors demand that HHS take strong action to stop the PBM and GPO kickbacks.

Ultimately, as Trump stated in his comments, Congress will need to do it’s part in concert with administration actions.  One priority for Congress must be to repeal the GPO/PBM safe harbor and end legalized kickbacks.

In the meantime HHS can lead the way to educate Americans on how such repeal will save $200 billion dollars/year and prevent dangerous drug shortages.

Americans are depending on you to do the right thing, Secretary Azar.

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Don’t get stuck in ER surrounded by flu victims. Joining a concierge practice is a no brainer.

Dr. Tom LaGrelius writes in:

Joining a concierge practice is a no brainer, unless you want to sit surrounded by coughing masked flu victims in a packed ER unable to treat you with antivirals anyway. The hospitals are using Tamiflu only on patients so sick they are in the ICU. And in most of those cases they need not have bothered. They got their first dose long long long after the effectiveness window had closed. They should save it for the ones ill less than two days when it actually works!

The hospitals are currently swamped with flu victims and have no beds or ER space.  Continue reading

CMS wants your comments on market-based Healthcare innovation. Deadline Nov. 20.

CMS has caused quite a stir this week by announcing they are shaking up their CMMI “Innovations” office.
They are looking for input on “Consumer-Directed Care & Market-Based Innovation Models”  that might be beneficial to Medicare and Medicaid patients.
“What options might exist beyond FFS and MA for paying for care delivery that incorporate price sensitivity and a consumer driven or directed focus and might be tested as a model and alternative to FFS and MA?”
Here’s a link to the full request:
The deadline for submitting comments is November 20 and the link to their webpage on this is here:
And the response form is here https://survey.max.gov/429625

The solution to healthcare is…

Most agree that we need a healthcare system that encourages people to take care of themselves and covers catastrophic injuries and disease for all people.

I trust the free-market more than government, and some trust the government more than the free market.

MACRA, ACA, HIPAA, HMO act, Medicare and Medicaid were supposed to reduce costs and expenditures. Obviously government only makes it all worse. Looks like a job for the freemarket!

Either way, whichever philosophical system is selected by the people, individuals must freedom of choice and bear their own responsibility to the extent that is humanly possible.

Craig M. Wax DO

CNBC reports:

Medical emergency: ER costs skyrocket, leaving patients in shock

  • Americans are being overcharged by more than $3 billion a year for ER services, according to data from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
  • Bills can be nearly 13 times the rates paid by Medicare for the same services.
  • Americans in the Southeast and Midwest, and poor and minority patients, are the most exploited by emergency-room billing practices, especially at for-profit hospitals.

Read full story:

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/10/medical-emergency-er-costs-skyrocket-leaving-patients-in-shock.html

The Ten Commandments of Healthcare

“Socialism is great until you run out of someone elses money.” ~Margaret Thatcher

Remember: Doctors for America was Doctors for Obama(partisan organization)

Read more: “Both Parties are Responsible for Healthcare Disaster” by Dr. Wax, published in Medical Economics, June 27, 2017 http://medicaleconomics.modernmedicine.com/medical-economics/news/both-political-parties-are-responsible-healthcare-disaster

VIDEO: Principles for Health Care Freedom

IP4PI founder Craig M. Wax, D.O. presents on Capitol Hill at the March 2017 meeting of the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy. Learn more about NPCHP efforts at http://npchcp.org. Read a synopsis of the principles here and view slides here.

 

Real Patient Lives vs. Corporatized/Government Healthcare, Part IV

The insurance and government dominated system is failing our patients. A physician friend of IP4PI shares this shocking example about the system claiming another victim:

A 59 y/o man presented to my last employed practice, with an almost elephantiasis swelling bilateral legs.  He had pinpoint marks on the skin of his legs.  He held up a jar with what looked like a couple of tiny maggots.  He said, these come out of those holes every so often.  I said how long has this been going on??  He said 1.5 years.  “I’ve mentioned to several doctors, they just shrug and don’t do anything.”  I said we would do something, and called the hospitalist immediately to admit for workup and treatment.  I was directed to the nurse gatekeeper for approval for admission.  What’s wrong, she asked.  “4+ edema in both legs, which are also full of maggots.”  Hmmm, she said.  There is no medicare admissible diagnosis of ‘maggots in legs’.  What about his rising creatinine of 1.7?  Not bad enough to qualify under guidelines.  Call us back if it gets worse.  I did try to do some outpatient workup, but I think the man was disgusted.  He never followed up.  He was dead within the year.