Tuesday Night Policy Call Series: Feb. 5th Recap -- Budget Updates and Rx Savings with Margarida Jorge

Heard about PHAN’s Tuesday Night Policy Call Series? It’s a great, easy way to get the latest updates and the nitty-gritty details on the health care issues that matter most to you, whether you’re on the drive home from work, making dinner, or putting in a late night at the office. 

Calls happen every other Tuesday night, from 6:00 - 7:00pm, and after each call, we’ll post a recap right here on our blog.

Feb. 5th: Cut Rx Costs, Not Our Care -- An Update on Federal Budget Negotiations and the Growing Movement to Save Money by Allowing Medicare and Medicaid to Negotiate for Lower Drug Prices.

Quick state update: 

In today’s budget address laying out his priorities (or lack thereof), Governor Corbett said he was “not recommending” the Pennsylvania accept new funds set aside to cover 700,000 working people that would also create hundreds of thousands of jobs and stimulate economic activity across the state. 

Check out our official statement on this and the next steps for continuing the fight that we posted earlier today. 

While the Governor isn’t for it, he’s also not going to block it -- which means our focus now will be on members of the Pennsylvania Senate and House, as they come up with their own budgets and work toward agreement on a final package. 

What can you do? Join us in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Feb. 12th to tell lawmakers: Get Real, Take the Deal! Buses are leaving from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia -- grab a seat before they’re gone! 

Stay connected with all our work on this at www.pahealthaccess.org/Medicaid, and if you haven’t yet -- sign the petition at http://bit.ly/TaketheDeal

On to tonight’s topic:

Why prescription drug prices are so high in Medicare and Medicaid? What are the political dynamics involved with trying to change that? And what is going on with the federal budget process -- we’ve leapt from one self-imposed crisis to the next, where do we go from here?

Margarida Jorge, National Field Director for Health Care for America Now, gave us some insight:

Given the dynamics surrounding the federal budget, the insistence of the intransigent House of Representatives against raising revenue, and the feeling by some in Congress that “we’ve already raised all the revenue we’re going to raise” in the fiscal cliff deal, our challenge as health care advocates is to be innovative and aggressive in protecting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act. (A big target for some in Congress are the tax credits in the ACA set aside to help working and middle class families afford coverage) 

We need to focus on continuing to push for reasonable revenue, from things like closing tax loopholes and making sure corporations pay their fair share, but also need to propose solutions for saving money in health care programs that don’t harm folks’ benefits. 

Backing up a step, it’s important to remember that in the fiscal cliff deal, taxes went up modestly on the top .7% of Americans, not the top 2% -- so there’s a lot of revenue still on the table. It’s not a done deal, it’s a good start. 

Less money on the table forces a debate in Congress focused only on spending cuts, which is why it’s more important than ever that we make sure corporate tax-dodgers and the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.

It’s also important that we put other proposals on the table to mitigate the “need” for those cuts. What kind of proposals?

Allowing the federal government to negotiate fair drug prices in Medicare, for starters. This is an idea that’s been around for years, but has been difficult to pass because the drug companies their lobby have such a grip on the Congress. 

In fact, when Congress added prescription drug coverage to Medicare in 2003, they specifically barred the government from negotiating for reasonable prices (like they do every day at the Veterans Administration, where they pay 70% less for prescription drugs!). In other countries where they do this, folks pay half and sometimes a third as much for prescription drugs. So, this is a solution that will not only help our federal budget, it’ll also help the millions of seniors and people with disabilities who, every day, are forced to the brink by out-of-control health care costs. 

Prescription drug costs are a big part of our overall health care costs and too often, when politicians look to cut Medicare and Medicaid, they focus on cutting benefits rather than putting in place reforms and changes to blunt the rise in the cost of providing health care. Think: penny-wise and pound-foolish.

So now we’re in a situation where drug companies dictate the cost of these drugs that folks on Medicare and Medicaid need. These companies are profit-driven, and their prices reflect that. We’ve seen a 70% increase in drug prices in the last 10 years, and that’s taken a toll on our federal budget and on every family with a loved one struggling to keep up and afford their medications. 

The upcoming discussions over the federal budget is a great opportunity to push for this badly-needed and long-overdue change. 

Has anything been proposed?

Not yet, and not likely until the President’s State of the Union (#SOTU) address on Feb. 12th. The President does have a plan that would save money by allowing folks who are covered by both Medicare and Medicaid (“dual eligibles”) to get all their prescriptions through Medicaid rather than the more expensive Medicare. Doing this could save $150B over ten years.  

Allowing direct negotiation for drug prices in Medicare would save much more -- the Center for Economic Policy and Research estimates savings of $541B over 10 years for federal taxpayers, another $72B in savings to state taxpayers, and $112B in savings for beneficiaries. We need to make this part of the discussion as Congress begins to work on a long-term budget deal.  

We can do that by demonstrating public support and public demand for action. This won’t be an easy fight, considering that Big PHARMA, the powerful lobby for the drug companies, is a big spender in Washington. Their money goes where the political power goes, and they give to both Democrats and Republicans. 

So what can we do?

-- Learn more and share the information with your friends! Read all about this issue here, and share the fact sheet with your friends. http://pahealthaccess.org/CutRxCosts

-- Sign the petition to Congress: Cut Rx Costs, NOT Our Care! http://bit.ly/CutRxCostsNOTOurCare

-- Get your Member of Congress on record on this. Talk to them about the issue and ask for their position in writing. When you generate work for their staff, they notice!

-- Show your Member of Congress that people in their district are talking about this! Write a letter-to-the-editor and help your friends do one, too!

-- Help us make this issue real for folks. If you know someone on Medicare who is struggling with rising drug costs, put them in touch with us to share their story! Everyone’s been hurt by this, and the more we speak up, the more members of Congress notice. 

-- Join the Medicare & Medicaid Task Force: http://bit.ly/JointheTaskForce to work on this issue and many more affecting Medicare and Medicaid.

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