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Bipartisan bill aims to reduce healthcare costs in the US Posted 02/08/2019

Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray recently introduced the ‘Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019’. The bipartisan bill includes 54 different proposals from 65 senators (36 Democrats and 29 Republicans), all aimed at lowering the cost of health care.

Sen Alexander said that ‘according to the HHS health data office, American families are spending an average of US$1,095 per person on their health care – up from US$705 a person in 2000, not including insurance premiums. Most people don’t even know what they are paying for because their medical bills are so confusing’.

The Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 was introduced to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) on 26 June 2019. The bill attempts to address rapid and significant drug price increases which have occurred in the last few years, with drug companies often raising prices significantly, especially when the drug is unavailable from other drug companies. It also tries to address the practice of originator drug companies paying generics makers to keep generics off the market so prices can remain high.

The Lower Healthcare Costs Act of 2019 aims to reduce what Americans pay out-of-pockets for health care in three major ways:
1. Ending surprise medical billing
2. Reducing the prices of prescription drugs by encouraging generics and biosimilars
3. Improving transparency

It also aims to improve public health by authorizing a national campaign to increase awareness and combat misinformation about vaccine safety, requiring the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop guides on evidence-based obesity prevention, establishing a grant programme for training healthcare professionals on discrimination and implicit bias in maternal health care and extending mandatory funding for community health centres.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) said that it ‘appreciates and supports the Senate HELP Committee’s interest in protecting patients from surprise medical bills’. However, the AAMC added that it was ‘dismayed they have chosen to address this problem through rate setting. We are very concerned about potential unintended consequences, and that the current version of this bill could keep patients from accessing the high quality, effective care that is available only at teaching hospitals’.

The HELP Committee passed the bill out of committee on a 20−3 vote. The bill will now be transmitted to Sens McConnell and Schumer, where it will be put to a vote.

This is not the only legislation in the US trying to address the high prices of prescription drugs. The US Senate and House Judiciary Committees reintroduced legislation to tackle anticompetitive behaviour delaying the market entry of more affordable generics in June 2017 [1]. The Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) 2019 Act was advanced by the US House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee in April 2019 [2].

Related article
Hatch aims to promote biosimilars and generics and restrict litigation

References
1. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. US Senate revives the CREATES Act [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2019 Aug 2]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Policies-Legislation/US-Senate-revives-the-CREATES-Act 
2. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. US government advances five bills to increase generics competition [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2019 Aug 2]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Policies-Legislation/US-government-advances-five-bills-to-increase-generics-competition 

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Source: AAMC, Alexander, Congress.gov, Senate.gov

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