Medicare official defends controversial drug plan

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The top Medicare official defended the administration’s controversial new plan to overhaul payments for prescription drugs on Wednesday, which he pitched as a way to increase access to potentially life-saving medicine.

“There is nothing that we propose to do, or should do, in any way, that prevents a patient from getting a prescription medicine that they need,” Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Wednesday.

Slavitt spoke for the first time about the Medicare proposal in front of more than 100 pharmaceutical executives at the annual Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) conference.

In a question-and-answer session with Slavitt, PhRMA board member and Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier deadpanned that he was going to ask about “the elephant in the room.”

The proposal had been unveiled just one day earlier.

“As you can imagine, people have a great deal of concern about the proposal,” Frazier said.

Under the pilot model, the reimbursement rate in Medicare Part B would be slashed by more than half, but with a new flat rate per prescription. Currently, doctors are paid by the Medicare Part B program based on a drug’s average sales price, plus 6 percent. That rate will drop to 2.5 percent under the model, with a flat payment of about $16

The proposal, which was officially unveiled Tuesday after it was leaked weeks earlier, is intended to rein in government spending on drugs and promote more effective treatments.

In the past 24 hours, the pilot model has been condemned by groups such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology, though it was applauded by groups such as the Center for American Progress for encouraging higher-value drugs.

Slavitt stressed that the plan was still in the early stages, and that the agency would be soliciting feedback for several months.

“I expect this to be in the beginning of a discussion,” Slavitt said. “I hope we hear the kind of input that allows us to do this.”