For all the sparring over "repeal and replace," you would be forgiven for thinking that the Affordable Care Act is Americans' greatest healthcare concern.
The truth is, consumers' angst over the 2010 law is dwarfed by their concerns over the cost of healthcare and soaring prescription drug prices specifically. It is not hard to see why.
Prescription drugs may account for about 10% of total healthcare spending, but it is the sector of healthcare that touches Americans' lives most deeply and most often. The typical consumer won't go to the hospital or doctor's office every month, but they may pick up a prescription more often than that.
Congressional Democrats seized on the issue recently with the rollout of their so-called Better Deal agenda, including a new platform they claim will lower drug costs by increasing government intervention in Medicare's prescription drug benefit and creating a new government price-gouging czar to investigate drug manufacturers.
Instead of a better deal, the plan may end up being a raw deal for consumers. To start, it ignores the thousands of generic drug applications languishing at the Food and Drug Administration, and it creates problems where they don't exist by overhauling a successful Medicare program that earns high marks from 9 out of 10 seniors already.
Medicare already gets great discounts on drugs. Allowing bureaucrats to meddle with these successful price negotiations will only harm patient access to medicines, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Official savings for consumers according to the CBO? Zero. The Better Deal reforms are really political posturing.
Rather than partisan talking points that do more to stoke controversy than get results, Democrats and Republicans should focus on actionable solutions that bring parties together to help consumers. At the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, where I serve as president, we have provided lawmakers a road map to doing exactly that.
In May, we launched the Prescriptions for Affordability initiative. It's a bold plan that brings together the unlikeliest of allies—drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers, conservative employer organizations and progressive consumer groups—to improve prescription drug competition, value and innovation. We are not focused on scoring political points, we are focused on finding common ground. That is why, for example, we propose value-based arrangements-reimbursing drugmakers for a product's effectiveness instead of the volume of prescriptions. Consumers could get their money back if a drug doesn't work.
It's a concept endorsed by lawmakers as diverse as Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). It's already working to drive down costs in private insurance—yet outdated laws prevent Medicare beneficiaries from sharing in the savings.
Our plan also spurs competition among manufacturers by providing the FDA with tools to clear out the backlog of drug applications waiting for approval that—if acted upon—would create more competitors on the market, which means lower costs for consumers. We know that market forces work better than any government-designed program to lower costs because we see it time and again.
If stakeholders as diverse as consumer groups and drug manufacturers can rally together around these solutions, Congress should too.
We have already seen Washington put party politics aside with enactment of the landmark 21st Century Cures Act and, more recently, with the FDA Reauthorization Act that passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed by the president this month.
Now, it's time for Congress to draw from that same well of political courage when it comes to drug affordability and access. Our projections show that the plan we propose would reduce healthcare costs by up to $71 billion a year, and we think that's a good place to start.
So whether you're a Democrat looking for a "better deal" or a Republican calling for a "better way"—we invite you to join us in working to deliver what's needed most: better value for patients and consumers.