Under intense pressure from President Donald Trump to take steps that visibly lower the cost of drugs, HHS Secretary Alex Azar is reaching for low-hanging fruit. The administration’s proposed budget, which will be released on Feb. 12, will include a proposal to hand a portion of drug company Medicare Part D rebates to beneficiaries at the pharmacy counter, and to cap Part D out-of-pocket expenses, according to an administration source.
While these policies are not likely to reduce government spending on drugs and could increase premiums, they are politically irresistible because they visibly slash out-of-pocket costs for senior citizens. In addition, they could be put into practice without legislation, a major consideration given the near impossibility of obtaining congressional consensus on drug pricing -- or anything else.
Targeting drug rebates is attractive to the administration because it addresses concerns expressed by drug companies, payers and patients that middlemen are siphoning money out of the distribution chain without adding value.
“The idea of more transparency in the distribution chain has a lot of traction,” former CMS Administrator Mark McClellan told BioCentury.
“This is a feasible, realistic, albeit quite wonky option to take,” Erin Trish, associate director of health policy at the University of Southern California’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics, told BioCentury.
“The idea of more transparency in the distribution chain has a lot of traction.”
McClellan, who is director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University, said redirecting rebates to Medicare patients is a balancing act: “There would be some cost savings for some beneficiaries who are using costly drugs where there are significant rebates. The flip side