As 2019 gets under way, public outrage over high prescription drug prices does not appear to have abated, especially in light of recent news reports indicating manufacturers are raising prices on hundreds of drugs this month, AIS Health reported.
Yet there are plenty of reasons why this concern over drug prices might not result in any significant legislative or regulatory action, experts tell AIS Health. And whatever does occur might benefit health plans and PBMs more than challenge them.
Walid Gellad at the University of Pittsburgh says there’s sure to be a lot of drug-pricing bills proposed — and even passed — by the House, but it’s not certain that any will become law. He says that’s because many Senate Republicans aren’t likely to be very interested in passing legislation that harms the pharmaceutical industry. “The real uncertainty is whether the president would get behind one of those bills, and if so, that could change things,” Gellad says.
One hot topic on Democrats’ legislative agenda will be allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. While the idea of broad-based Medicare price negotiation probably has little chance of passing, “there could be a tie-in between negotiation and external reference prices for Part D,” says Gerard Anderson, professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In fact, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other left-leaning lawmakers introduced a trio of drug-pricing bills on Jan. 10, one of which would direct HHS to negotiate lower prices for Part D drugs, and another that would peg the price of prescription drugs in the U.S. to the median price in five major countries.
Overall, Anderson says he expects most potential actions to lower drug prices will benefit the managed care sector, as the result could be lower costs for such companies.
On the regulatory front, Gellad says he expects “small changes here and there…[but] nothing that’s going to radically change prices now or over the next two years — or until the next election.” However, “the big one for me is whether there will be big action around rebates,” he adds.
If the prescription drug rebate structure changes fundamentally, “it’s going to create a challenge for PBMs and their underwriting strategies, because they have been driven by rebates over the last couple years,” says Brian Anderson, a principal with Milliman, Inc.