WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Don’t Get Fooled Again.” That’s the message from cancer patient and founder and president of Patients For Affordable Drugs David Mitchell to 50 Democratic members of the House. The members all signed on to a letter supporting drug corporations’ lobbying efforts to rollback Big Pharma’s contribution to Medicare that saves patients and taxpayers money.
“Frankly, we were surprised and confused to see that you signed on to a letter apparently instigated by drug corporations,” Mitchell said in the letter which was delivered to Democratic Capitol Hill offices today. “We know you stand for the best interests of patients, but the letter you signed suggests policy changes that could hurt Medicare Part D beneficiaries and pad Big Pharma’s bottom line.”
The action by Patients For Affordable Drugs comes in response to a May 24 letter Democrats sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In the letter led by Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL), members encouraged action to let drug corporations off the hook for the high cost of drugs in the Medicare donut hole. Under the bipartisan budget deal Congress passed in February, drug corporations are responsible for 70 percent of the cost of prescription drugs in the donut hole starting next year, up from 50 percent this year. This change comes at a time when drug corporations are reaping record profits, buying back billions in stock, and raising drug prices.
House letter signers also flag a real problem in the structure of Medicare that will cause patient out-of-pocket costs to rise in 2020—the so-called “cliff.” Mitchell made clear that issue should be addressed, and one way to do it is to make Pharma pay more—not less.
“However, the ‘cliff’ will not be resolved by rolling back Pharma’s responsibility to cover 70 percent of the cost of drugs for seniors in the donut hole,” Mitchell wrote. “One way to address the ‘cliff’ is for drug corporations to contribute a larger share toward Medicare in 2020 and beyond.”
The letter acknowledges the genuine interests of the members of Congress to protect people on Medicare, but makes clear that the suggestions in the letter to House leadership are inconsistent with that goal.
“On behalf of millions of Medicare beneficiaries, we ask that you withhold support for any ‘solutions’ to the cliff that would reduce Big Pharma’s contribution to the donut hole, and that you work with leadership to craft a solution to the cliff that will benefit the patients we represent,” Mitchell said.
Full text of the letter is below.
Dear (Member name),
My name is David Mitchell, and I am the founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs, but more importantly a cancer patient. Patients For Affordable Drugs is the only national patient organization focused exclusively on policies to lower drug prices. To maintain our independence, we don’t accept funding from any organizations that profit from the development or distribution of prescription drugs. Since our launch last year, we have collected more than 13,000 stories of patients struggling to pay for their medicines. We have built a community of more than 85,000 patients from every state. We write today to clarify issues pertaining to the Medicare Part D donut hole closing and the so-called “cliff.”
Frankly, we were surprised and confused to see that you signed on to a letter apparently instigated by drug corporations. We know you stand for the best interests of patients, but the letter you signed suggests policy changes that could hurt Medicare Part D beneficiaries and pad the bottom line of big pharma.
The letter conflates two important issues pertaining to Medicare Part D.
In February, Congress agreed to close the prescription drug “donut hole” a year early for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. As part of the bipartisan agreement, brand drug corporations are responsible for 70% discounts on drugs in the donut hole, up from a 50% discount level now.
This is a good deal for Medicare beneficiaries and represents a rare win for patients, consumers, and taxpayers. It comes at a time when drug corporations are reaping record profits, buying back billions in stock, and raising drug prices.
The bipartisan deal must be maintained.
There is a separate issue we believe you are interested in trying to address, and we appreciate your efforts to do so. Under current law, out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries will jump in 2020—the so-called “cliff”. The policy change increases the amount beneficiaries must spend in order to enter the catastrophic phase of Medicare. This situation will increase the time beneficiaries’ spend in the donut hole — where they are paying 25% for the cost of their prescriptions — rather than 5% in the catastrophic phase. For Part D beneficiaries with high cost drugs, this will substantially increase annual out-of-pocket costs. Fixing the “cliff’ or capping out-of-pocket spending would both benefit patients, and the latter was suggested by the Trump Administration and could be a bipartisan solution to the “cliff.”
For example, drug manufacturers could contribute to a restructuring of the program to cap out-of-pocket costs at the catastrophic level. This would directly help about a million Medicare beneficiaries who take the most expensive Part D drugs and have the highest out-of-pocket costs. Rolling back Big Pharma’s commitment to close the donut hole is not an effective way to address the problem.
I am a Medicare beneficiary with an incurable blood cancer, and I have experienced firsthand the toll high drug costs take on patients. We are grateful that Congress made the right decision and closed the donut hole in the budget deal earlier this year. On behalf of millions of Medicare beneficiaries, we ask that you withhold support for any “solutions” to the cliff that would reduce Big Pharma’s contribution to the donut hole, and that you work with leadership to craft a solution to the cliff that will benefit the patients we represent.