LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Let insurers fight for Medicare drug discounts

First State seniors have a right to be upset with Congress for tampering with their healthcare. Some lawmakers are advancing a bill that would let federal officials micromanage seniors’ Medicare “Part D” drug plans. The meddling could cause more than 120,000 Delawareans to lose access to lifesaving medicines.

Congress implemented Medicare Part D more than ten years ago. The program subsidizes prescription drug plan premiums for seniors and those with disabilities. Today, more than 42 million people across America take advantage of the program.

Participants pay low monthly premiums, around $34 a month. That’s about half the $60 that originally was forecast. In Delaware, some seniors pay just $14.60 per month.1 Nine out of 10 Delawarean beneficiaries have access to a plan with a lower premium than what they paid in 2016.

These low premiums mean that seniors can maintain coverage, adhere to their medications, and stay healthy. In fact, Part D is linked to an 8 percent decline in hospital admissions among seniors.

The program is working great, and beneficiaries agree. About 90 percent of Part D enrollees report satisfaction with their coverage and believe their plans work well.

Delawareans can thank the program’s laissez-faire model for the affordable prices. Right now, the government lets private insurers come up with their own drug plans. Federal officials are prohibited from telling plans exactly what drugs should and shouldn’t be covered.

Insurers have every incentive to offer attractive plans — Delawareans can choose from among 20 plans, so they’re going to pick the one that gives them the best bang for their buck. If insurers fail to offer competitive plans, their customers can jump ship to a rival insurer that offers a cheaper or more comprehensive plan.

Insurers can create good plans — ones with low premiums, co-pays, and deductibles — if they secure big discounts on drug prices. So they bargain hard with drug manufacturers to get those discounts.

Unfortunately, some in Washington think the federal government could drive an even tougher bargain and extract even bigger rebates than private insurers. They’re wrong.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said time and again that the federal government could not negotiate prices that are more favorable than those already obtained by private insurers. The only way the government could push down prices is by removing “certain drugs from coverage,” according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

More than 26,000 Delawareans have learned this the hard way. They receive drug coverage through the Veterans Affairs health system, in which the government “negotiates” drug prices. To keep costs down, the VA does not offer access to nearly one-fifth of the top 200 most commonly prescribed Part D drugs.

Allowing Washington to negotiate drug prices for Part D would be a disaster for beneficiaries, who would lose access to lifesaving prescriptions.

Part D is popular, affordable and keeps seniors healthy.  Please don’t change what is working.

Carla Grygiel
Executive Director, Newark Senior Center

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