drug prices

Ohio’s Medicaid program has rolled out a new tool, the Unified Preferred Drug List, that's meant improve communication between patients, doctors and pharmacists.

Updated at 11:20 a.m. ET

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., unveiled her long-anticipated plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs on Thursday. It is a priority shared by President Trump, fueling a glimmer of hope that there is a deal to be had on the issue ahead of the 2020 elections.

"It is transformative," Pelosi said of her plan."We do hope to have White House buy-in."

The Trump administration has dropped one of the meatiest portions of its plan to reduce drug prices.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it will no longer pursue a rule that would have prohibited the payment of certain rebates on drugs in Medicare Part D and Medicaid plans.

The idea was to target the middlemen, pharmacy benefit managers, whose negotiations with drugmakers and insurers influence the costs consumers pay for drugs.

A federal judge on Monday stopped a Trump administration initiative that would have required drugmakers to reveal the sticker price of their drugs in television ads.

Under the rule, if a medicine's list price was more than $35 a month, it would have to be stated during the commercial. The challenge, opponents say, is that a drug's list price and estimates of what people can expect to pay vary widely depending on coverage.

The price of pharmaceuticals around the world can vary dramatically depending on who's paying for the drugs and where those patients happen to live.

Take the pneumonia vaccine. Doctors Without Borders just struck a deal on it for refugee children in Greece. The aid group will pay $9 per immunization for a drug with a list price of $540. In local Greek pharmacies, the vaccine costs $168. France pays $189 for the inoculation while the far less wealthy nation of Lebanon pays $243 for it, according to the group. In India you can get it for roughly $60.

Riverside Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Sixflashphoto / Wikimedia Commons

As of Jan. 1, 2019, hospitals are required to post price lists online for everything from medications to procedures. The mandate from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services aims to increase price transparency and help patients make more informed choices.

The Trump administration is weighing whether to require hospitals to publicly reveal the prices they charge insurance companies for medical procedures and services — prices that are currently negotiated in private and kept confidential.

The Department of Health and Human Services says its aim is to boost competition and cut costs by letting consumers see how prices vary from place to place. But health economists say such "transparency" might not actually bring down costs for patients.

Andrew Harnik / Associated Press

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the subject of much speculation for the 2020 presidential election, took time to chat with WKSU about some of his priorities, including tax and health care reform.

The Trump administration is proposing major changes in how prescription drugs are priced and paid for by Medicare.

The effort is designed to cut costs for senior citizens at the pharmacy counter and by its example could spur changes in the broader market for prescription drugs.

The Trump administration says it plans to change how Medicare pays for some expensive drugs for cancer and arthritis in a move to bring the costs more in line with the prices paid in European countries.

"For decades, other countries have rigged the system so that American patients are charged much more," President Trump said Thursday in a speech at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Medicare. "American patients pay more, so other countries can pay less."

Several states are questioning the cost of using pharmacy middlemen to manage their prescription drug programs in a movement that could shake up the complex system that manages how pharmaceuticals are priced and paid for.

franchise opportunities / Flickr

A new study by the consumer website GoodRx has found that the cost for prescriptions can vary videly, even in the same state. 

Cleveland pharmacy prices were 2.5 percent above the national average while Columbus prices were nearly 22 percent below the average.  

Today on Wellness Wednesday, how and why drugs are priced differently in different cities and states.

Also, the growing science of gene editing, and who should check their bone density numbers -- and when. 

Guests:

Since Kristen Catton started taking the drug Gilenya two years ago, she's had only one minor relapse of her multiple sclerosis, following a bout of the flu.

Thanks to the medicine, she says, she's able to walk comfortably, see clearly and work part time as a nurse case manager at a hospital near her home in Columbus, Ohio. This is a big step forward; two drugs she previously tried failed to control her physical symptoms or prevent repeated flare-ups.

A simple question at the pharmacy could unlock savings for millions of Medicare beneficiaries.

Under a little-known Medicare rule, they can pay a lower cash price for prescriptions instead of using their insurance and doling out the amount the policy requires. But only if they ask.

That is because pharmacists say their contracts with drug plans often contain "gag orders" forbidding them from volunteering this information.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has this pen. It's not all that remarkable looking, but he held it up multiple times Monday at a briefing with reporters.

"This pen," he said, "has a lot of power."

And he said he is prepared to use it.

Azar was making the point that in the area of drug prices, the head of HHS — which runs the Medicare and Medicaid programs and buys about $130 billion in prescription drugs each year — can make a lot of changes in the pharmaceutical market. And he doesn't need congressional approval to do it.

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