The US Senate’s vote this past weekend to proceed with debate on a legislative proposal for healthcare reform portends—what by all accounts—promises to be yet another rigorous round of policy and political opinion. A Google search for the past week alone shows that almost 500,000 blogs (459,049 at the time of posting of this blog) have been posted in response to the Senate’s action to move forward with considering healthcare reform. In the swirl of this public opinion, where does the pharmaceutical industry stand?
There is not a simple answer to that question as both the innovator-drug industry and the generic-drug industry are taking decidedly different positions. So far, the innovator-drug industry as a whole is offering a measured view of the Senate proposal. On Nov. 19, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Senior Vice-President Ken Johnson released a statement in the wake of the Senate’s decision to proceed with debate. “While we are still reviewing the Senate bill, we remain committed to do our part to make comprehensive healthcare reform a reality this year,” he said in the statement. “We believe that all Americans should have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare coverage and services. If done in a smart way, healthcare reform will benefit patients, the economy, and the future of America. Compared to the House bill, which would have a chilling effect on medical progress in America, the Senate approach provides a much better blueprint for reform.”
PhRMA has supported healthcare reform, offering an $80-billion commitment over 10 years to close gaps in Medicare prescription drug coverage. It, however, objected to measures in the recently passed House bill, which would impose mandatory rebates in Medicare Part D coverage. “PhRMA and its member companies share the goal of closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap for affected seniors and have agreed to provide a 50% discount on brand-name medicines purchased in the so-called ‘doughnut hole,’ said PhRMA in an Oct. 29, 2009 press release. “However, the Congressional Budget Office has warned that the House bill, which imposes mandatory rebates in Part D, would ultimately lead to a 20% increase in Part D premiums paid by beneficiaries.”
In offering a more supportive position toward the Senate provision, PhRMA says that it remains committed to working with parties to get a healthcare measure passed this year. “What’s critical now is that we remain focused on the important goal of helping pass a comprehensive health care reform bill that can get to the President’s desk this year. We will continue to be a constructive partner to help meet this goal,” said Johnson in the statement.
Meanwhile, the generic-drug industry is voicing disagreement with the Senate bill. Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA) President and CEO Kathleen Jaeger sharply criticized the biologics provision of the Senate healthcare reform proposal. “Just when you think the pro-BIO and PhRMA provisions in healthcare reform couldn’t get any more favorable for them, the Senate healthcare reform bill has further disappointed consumers by adding additional monopoly protection to expensive biologic medicines,” she said in a Nov. 19 statement. “Regardless of the motivation, the biologic provision in this bill takes the already egregious and unwarranted 12 years of exclusivity and extends it. The Senate leadership had the opportunity to address the deficiencies of the House HCR [healthcare reform] bill and to fulfill the Senate HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pension] Committee’s commitment to close down a major loophole known as ‘evergreening’ and deliver a more reasonable biogenerics pathway to consumers, labor, businesses, generic manufacturers, and employers. Instead, they have provided further hurdles to access more affordable medicines.”
No doubt both the innovator-drug and generic-drug industries will be participants among the many interests in the massive upcoming discourse on healthcare reform. To put it succinctly, let the debates begin.