WASHINGTON – As the rising cost of prescription drugs continues to garner heightened scrutiny from the federal government, one thing is missing from the conversation that would make any solution more effective, according to American Medical Association President Barbara L. McAneny, MD.
“We would like to see transparency from end to end in this pipeline because that is the way we will have the ability to look for savings,” she said in an interview at a national advocacy conference sponsored by the American Medical Association.
“I think we don’t have the information we need to make rational decisions,” she said. “I think the first thing we need to do is to understand the entire pipeline from the basic research that results in a drug’s clinical trials that results in a new drug to the pharmacy benefit managers and all of the ways that they have increased the cost of the drugs all the way to when the patient actually gets it.”
In particular, Dr. McAneny targeted the need for transparency in the role and financial impact pharmacy benefit managers have on the cost of prescription drugs.
“We were told at our state advocacy conference, which we held in January, by an expert who studied pharmacy benefit managers, that 42% of the cost of any drug is attributable to the profits of pharmacy benefit managers,” she said. “To me, that makes me wonder what value do they add that is worth 42% of these exorbitant costs and if they are not adding value, why do we have them in this process?”
She also called on the pharmaceutical manufacturers to be more forthcoming with their financial information regarding marketing and advertising, but she stressed that it needs to be done in a way that does not hinder future development of life-saving therapies.
“We do not want to stifle innovation.” Dr. McAneny said. “As a cancer doctor, I have seen diseases that I used to treat with morphine and sympathy now be diseases that I can treat, where I can restore people to good quality of life and buy them additional years of life because of these drugs. They are amazing and I don’t want to do without them and I want more of them. ... We want to support that research. That is probably worth a lot of the price tag. But how much of that goes to direct-to-consumer advertising? How much of that is the advertising budget? Where can we cut some of this out of the system so that we get the innovation, but we get innovation that all of our patients can afford?”
Another issue that is looming for physicians is a payment rate freeze from 2020-2025 under the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) track of the, which was created under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA).
“A 5-year freeze when my expenses do not freeze is a terrifying thing and could be a practice-ending expense for a lot of practices,” Dr. McAneny warned. “I will point out that independent practices, if they sell to a hospital, the cost of care immediately doubles. The amount that is paid for it, not the cost of delivering it. So that is not a great solution. But we also have this increasing practice expense and a flat rate is not going to help practices survive. So I am very concerned.”
Related to the QPP, Dr. McAneny also wants to see the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services do more with physician-developed alternative payment models. The Physician-Focused Payment Model Technical Advisory Committee () continues to review and evaluate submissions, but to date, the CMS has yet to implement any of the committee’s recommendations.
“I read all of the PTAC submissions that went to CMS. Some of them I thought were a little on the weak side, but there are a lot of them that I thought were really good ideas. I do not know why CMS did not approve them and fund them and let them be tried,” she said, although she did offer an opinion on why the agency has yet to act on any of them.
“I read their paper saying why they didn’t approve [the recommended physician-developed alternative payment models]. It seemed to me they are waiting for one silver bullet that will fix all of health care. I don’t think a silver bullet is going to fix health care. It’s not an issue. It’s a complicated set of issues. You will not have a quick fix.”