Federal Government Should Buy Prescription Drugs in Bulk for Washington, D.C., Medicare Beneficiaries, Study Says
By negotiating volume discounts with pharmaceutical companies, the federal government could relieve some of the financial burden of prescription drugs for Washington, D.C.-area Medicare beneficiaries without drug coverage, according to a report released yesterday, the Washington Post reports. The report, prepared by Public Citizen's Congress Watch, (a group founded by Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader), the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Gray Panthers, found that Washington, D.C.-area seniors without prescription drug coverage were charged nearly twice as much for nine popular pharmaceuticals as federal agencies purchasing the same drugs for veterans and military patients. Congress is currently considering a move to implement bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals for 39 million Medicare beneficiaries, about one-third of whom have no prescription drug benefits. Frank Clemente, director of Congress Watch, urged Congress to "resist intense lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry" and pursue the action. "If a veteran can get prescription drugs at half price, there is no reason why Medicare beneficiaries should not be able to do the same. If Medicare can negotiate discounted prices with hospitals and doctors, drug companies should be treated the same," Clemente said. Buying in bulk can yield substantial discounts; for example, a standard supply of the blood pressure drug Norvasc costs $128 for someone without prescription drug benefits, while the Indian Health Service and the Veterans Affairs Departments can purchase the same amount for $64 through bulk-buying programs. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, however, said that requiring Medicare to negotiate drug prices would "amount to government price controls." PhRMA spokesperson Judy Bello said, "If you expand it to cover all Medicare beneficiaries, you have expanded price controls to more than 42% of the market." According to the study, other drugs that cost nearly twice as much for seniors without prescription drug benefits include Celebrex, Fosamax, Lipitor, Pepcid, Prevacid, Prilosec, Zocor and Zoloft (Goldstein, Washington Post, 10/25). A similar survey conducted earlier this month showed that New Jersey seniors without prescription drug companies paid nearly twice as much for pharmaceuticals as "big insurance plans" (American Health Line, 10/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.