Crack down on fentanyl; lower price drugs; attacks on the pharmaceutical industry; “backroom deal” with Congress; “gag clauses”; and alert patients to new Medicare card

Some substance abuse treatment advocates and experts charge that lawmakers must add long-term funding to fully tackle the opioid epidemic.  The Opioid Response Act, passed by the U. S. Senate September 24, includes a slew of proposals to combat the crisis but only minimal funding.   The Senate and House, which passed their own slate of bills are poised to work out a compromise between the versions of their bills, both of which would expand treatment options, spur development of nonaddictive painkillers, and crack down on the tide of illicit fentanyl flooding into the U. S.

Lower-price generic drugs would hit the marker faster under a bipartisan bill awaiting a vote in the Senate, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation.   “CBO expects the bill’s provision would allow generic drugs to enter the market earlier, on average, than they would under current law,” authors of the report concluded.   The legislation, known as the CREATES Act, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in June, but hasn’t yet been scheduled for a vote on the floor.    CBO estimates that it would reduce spending by $3.3 billion from 2019 to 2208, mostly through the Medicare and Medicaid programs spending less on prescription drugs.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams released a digital “postcard” to the public to help them prevent opioid misuse.  It encourages people to carry the overdose-reversal drug naloxone and to talk to doctors about how to manage pain.

A group seeking lower drug prices is launching new attacks on the pharmaceutical industry to stop them from fixing a bill that will require them to give discounts for Medicare drugs.  The group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now released an ad highlighting the drug industry’s attempts to cut a “backroom deal” with Congress to eliminate a provision of law that requires them to give a bigger discount for certain drugs covered under Medicare.  The six-figure digital ad will run for an undetermined amount of time.

The U.S. Senate passed by a vote of 98-2 a bipartisan bill that aims to make it easier for patients in private health plans, including those in ACA markets, to get the lowest possible price on prescription drugs.  The Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act (S. 2554) prohibits “gag clauses” that prevent pharmacists from telling customers they could save money on drug bu paying out-of-pocket, rather than using their benefits.   The Senate earlier this month passed a similar bill that applies to patients in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week approved its won gag clause bill, H.R. 6733, which combines the two Senate Bill.

The FDA has been diligently working to expand consumer access to nonprescription drugs.

CMS continues to mail newly-designed Medicare cares with the new Medicare number.  If pharmacists’ Medicare patients say they did not get a card, ask them to: (1) Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) where their identity can be verified and help them get a new card; and (2) Continue to use their current card to get health care services until they get their new card.   Pharmacists should alert their patients to protect their new number to prevent medical identity theft and health care fraud.