Health Care

Top health official sees various routes to lowering patient costs

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Meena Seshamani, director of the Center for Medicare, said drug companies, health care providers and the government need to do more for Americans who struggle to afford prescription drugs.

Speaking at The Hill’s “Making Medicare Work Better for Patients” event on Tuesday, Seshamani said Americans pay 2-3 times more for medicine than residents of other wealthy countries.

“If the prescription medications that people take to stay healthy are expensive and unaffordable, this presents a huge barrier to people being able to stay healthy and for all of us to make progress on improving our system,” she told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

Seshamani said the Center for Medicare is aiming to address disparities in the health system through expanded access to behavioral health services, increased hospital price transparency regulations and research.

“We made a commitment to increasing data on health disparities in our proposed inpatient prospective payment system rule, with a particular focus on material morbidity and mortality, which we know particularly impacts women of color,” said Seshamani, who has worked as a health care executive, economist and policy analyst, in addition to being a physician.

National Health Council CEO Randall Rutta, who also spoke at the event sponsored by PhRMA, said he has yet to see a government proposal that values patients over cost.

“As we have looked at the proposals that have evolved, we have not seen that the savings could necessarily be achieved in ways other than pure cost cutting, or that really took into account what’s most important to patients. And so my caution in looking at some of the proposals that have been floated is that we have to make sure that we are looking at unintended consequences, that we’re focusing on things that are important to patients,” he said.

Drug price reforms were not included in President Biden’s American Families Plan or his American Jobs Plan, despite pressure from many congressional Democrats. But Biden has called for Congress to pass drug pricing legislation this year.

Many Democrats are pushing to include drug pricing provisions in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, though the specifics are unclear as lawmakers try to work out a deal between progressives and moderates on how sweeping the drug pricing legislation will be.

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