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Echoes of Big Tobacco fight in Big Pharma hearings

Emily Kopp, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

Meanwhile, advocates sympathetic to drugmakers have used the committee hearings to pitch measures that reduce out-of-pocket costs for patients, while allowing drug companies to charge the same prices.

The Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition, or DPAC, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group that does not disclose its industry donors, said in testimony during a House Energy and Commerce hearing on insulin prices earlier this month that Congress should undo the anti-fraud regulations that prevent some Medicare patients from accessing the coupons and patient assistance programs offered by drugmakers to encourage them to choose pricey brand-name drugs over cheaper generics.

"For the 2.3 million Medicare beneficiaries who use insulin, this is the ultimate betrayal," DPAC President Christel Marchand Aprigliano said.

But experts say there are already avenues for Medicare patients to benefit from these programs, and rolling back those regulations would only encourage fraud and siphon away federal health care spending to drug companies and away from other priorities.

DPAC did not respond to questions about these concerns or about whether drug companies fund the group, instead replying: "DPAC plays an important role in elevating awareness about access issues to a life-essential drug in today's U.S. policy discussions and providing realistic solutions. ... Patient assistance programs and copay cards provide some respite, but not for all."

Similarly, at a Senate Finance hearing on drug prices in January, the conservative 501(c)(3) nonprofit American Action Forum pressed lawmakers on long-standing priority: making changes to the 340B program, which grants discounts on outpatient drugs to hospitals that treat low-income patients.

 

The pharmaceutical lobby has also pushed lawmakers to draw back the discount, saying it shifts costs to patients.

But the 340B program makes up just 1 percent of the total drug market, according to a lobby group for hospitals on the issue called 340B Health.

And it's not clear that relieving drugmakers of the obligation to pay out the discount would translate to pocketbook savings for patients.

"The pharmaceutical industry is lying to us. There is no way, even if tomorrow the 340B program went away, there would be any material effect on drug prices. It's an itsy bitsy program," said John Hassell, the national advocacy director of the AIDs Healthcare Foundation.

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