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Watchdog urged for Medicare drug plans

Watchdog Committee Urged for Medicare Drug Plan to Protect Against Drug, Insurance Company Influence

Friday, Aug. 27, 2004
Contact: Gail Shearer, CU, 202-462-6262

(Washington, D.C.) – As the government prepares to launch its plan for what types of medicines will be covered under the new Medicare drug benefit, Consumers Union is urging the creation of a watchdog committee to look out for the interests of consumers and police against undue influence of giant pharmaceutical companies.
“We are concerned that Medicare beneficiaries will end up the losers in this plan, caught in the squeeze between the nation’s most powerful special interests – the drug companies and the insurance companies,” said Gail Shearer, Consumers Union’s director of health policy analysis. “Right now, there’s a risk that seniors’ voices will not be heard in this special-interest fight.”
Shearer, a member of the Beneficiaries Advisory Forum, is testifying Friday before U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) on the proposed guidelines it Medicare Modernization Act ed. USP was charged by Congress to create a list of drug categories from which pharmacy benefit managers can fill prescriptions.
Drug companies want a large number of narrow categories in hopes of including more of their products under each category, while the pharmacy benefit managers want fewer, broader categories so they have more freedom to pick drugs or bargain on price.
Shearer said it is critical to create an independent watchdog panel made up of medical experts familiar with the various drug categories to watch over the process. Consumers Union also wants to ensure cost containment measures are implemented like those currently in use by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which bargains aggressively to lower prescription drug costs.
Shearer said the Medicare drug benefit, which will go into effect in 2006 and will pay for a portion of beneficiaries’ drug costs, is fundamentally flawed because Congress specifically barred Medicare from negotiating deep discounts like the VA. She also urged Congress to appropriate money to study and disseminate to the public the comparative effectiveness of drugs – for example, telling consumers which types of cholesterol-reducing drugs are the most effective and inexpensive.
“We have to make sure the government is looking out for the pocketbooks of our seniors and disabled,” Shearer said. “A Medicare drug benefit is no good if places the interests of the drug companies and the insurance companies over those it is supposed to help.”
To read her testimony on the Medicare drug categories click here.