Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Despite Trump's Troublesome Policies, HIV Advocacy Must Remain in Motion

By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association

Earlier this year, we highlighted a decade of accomplishment achieved by the ADAP Advocacy Association since the organization's inception in 2007. Unfortunately, there is little time to celebrate because so much uncertainty  and yes, fear  exists over some of the troubling policies being put forth by the Trump Administration, and how they could potentially impact people living with HIV/AIDS. For that very reason, HIV advocacy must remain in motion!

The ADAP Advocacy Association has long contended the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is far from perfect, but it would be a mistake to ignore how the law has expanded coverage for low income and disadvantaged Americans. In fact, according to FactCheck.org nearly 20 million Americans have gained access to health insurance thanks to the ACA. There is no fake news behind that number!

Umbrella showing who is covered by Medicaid expansion
Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion; KFF.org

Medicaid expansion — which was authorized by the ACA had a lot to do with the dramatic decrease in the number of people uninsured in the United States. Many people living with HIV/AIDS benefited from Medicaid expansion, and their ability to access timely, appropriate care and treatment actually saved the taxpayers money. That's not to suggest that other negative, unintended consequences haven't emerged since the ACA's passage — including insurance discriminatory design with extremely high co-payments for anti-retroviral medications, adverse selection limiting access to care, or rising premiums and cost-sharing. There is also no fake news behind these facts, either!

Repeal? Replace? Repair? It is hard to know the future of the current ACA, but the Republican plan...as it currently exists...is bad for people living with HIV/AIDS. There is little debate over that statement. In fact, four Republicans governors — Snyder of Michigan, Kaisch of Ohio, Hutchinson of Arkansas, and Sandoval of Nevada —who actually favor the ACA's repeal have come out against the GOP-sponsored American Health Care Act, as it is known. Why? Because they recognize the important role Medicaid expansion has played for the people living in their respective states.

Ohio Governor John Kaisch talking to the press outside the West Wing of the White House
Ohio Governor John Kasich has voiced concerns about
repealing the Affordable Care Act; The Atlantic 

People living with HIV/AIDS haven't been well-served by the hyper-partisanship that has swept over the nation's capitol in recent years, especially with respect to the ACA. One political party buried its collective head in the sand and ignored the law's flaws, while the other political party obsessed over repealing the law without a viable alternative to replace it. Blame can be placed at the feet of both the Democrats, and the Republicans.

But rather than trying to score political points or rehash political talking points, people living with HIV/AIDS are making their voices heard loud and clear. They are trying to be part of the solution by engaging in HIV advocacy in motion...whether is activism via social media, or the National HIV Call-In Day (which was held on March 21st), or the countless sign-on letters being sent to Congress. It is encouraging that it is happening at the national, state, and local levels.

The ADAP Advocacy Association, for its part, has a robust schedule of events and projects planned for the current year. They include:
Scholarships are available for people living with HIV/AIDS who wish to participate, so that the voice of persons living with HIV/AIDS shall always be at the table and the center of the discussion. The webinar series will include the following topics:
  • Wednesday, May 31st – Plugging the Treatment Gap: Navigating Patient Assistance Programs
  • Wednesday, June 28th – Housing is Healthcare: Linking Stable Housing & Medication Adherence
  • Wednesday, July 26th – Transgender Healthcare: Removing Barriers to Healthy Cultural Expectations
  • Wednesday, September 27th – Body & Soul: Combatting the Dual Epidemic of HIV-Infection and Substance Abuse
More information about the ADAP Advocacy Association's sponsored events is available online at http://adapadvocacyassociation.org/events.html.

These activities are designed to raise awareness, offer patient educational programs, and foster greater community collaboration. Each one is enhanced by partnering with various other organizations, such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Community Access National Network (CANN), North Carolina AIDS Action Network (NCAAN), and the Professional Association of Social Workers in HIV/AIDS (PASWHA). Several other projects are also in the works for the coming year.

If one good thing has come from the Trump Administration's proposed policies, then it is an increasingly energized front by the HIV community.

ADAP Advocacy Association 10th Annual Conference - "Unchartered Water: AIDS Drug Assistance Programs in the Age of Trump"



Friday, March 17, 2017

Pharmaceutical Drug Pricing, According to President Donald J. Trump

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Screenshot of President Donald J. Trump speaking at January 10th press conference about the pharmaceutical industry.
Source: Fox Business News; WATCH CLIP
"I think a lot of industries are going to be coming back. We have to get our drug industry coming back. Our drug industry has been disastrous. They’re leaving left and right. They supply our drugs, but they don't make them here. To a large extent. And the other thing we have to do is create a new bidding procedures for the drug industry because they're getting away with murder. 
Pharma has a lot of lobbies, a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power. And there's very little bidding on drugs. We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don't bid properly. And were going to start bidding and were going to save billions of dollars over a period of time (National Public Radio, 2017)."
 President Donald J. Trump


Those two paragraphs during then-President-Elect Trump’s first press conference on January 10th, 2017, resulted in the nine biggest pharmaceutical companies (by market cap on the S&P 500) shedding $24.6 billion dollars in just twenty minutes (Shen, 2017). Fox Business Network (FBN) analysts were falling all over themselves to explain what he meant, desperate to make it seem like he wasn’t saying that there needs to be a cap on industry profits and to make it into an issue about taxes, regulations, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process (Fox Business Network, 2017). In just two paragraphs, Donald Trump managed to place pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists on the defensive – a position few likely thought they’d be in, after his electoral win in 2016, as market-oriented Republicans have consistently been sympathetic to the industry.

But breaking beyond his rhetoric and getting at the heart of what he’s attempting to say about the way the Federal government in the U.S. deals with pharmaceutical pricing is no simple task, largely because the issue of pricing is cloaked from the public as a result of existing Trade Secrets laws at both the state and Federal levels. These laws allow companies to keep secret how they set the price for their drugs, as well as what and how prices are negotiated with private insurers and government payers, like Medicaid and Ryan White Part B – the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are privy to this information, the exact price that each state’s Medicaid program pays is not public information, and releasing that data could result in serious consequences for those programs.

Of the three major public healthcare programs – Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, and Medicare – only the latter is barred by law from negotiating drug prices (Kertscher, 2017). This is a result of a provision inserted into the Medicaid Modernization Act (2003); the act that introduced the controversial Medicare Part D. Medicare Part D is a voluntary insurance program for prescription drugs for people on Medicare that was introduced by former President George W. Bush that has been in place since 2006. It created a market wherein private insurance companies offer various plans (at the county and zip-code-based levels) subsidized by the Federal government. One of the main provisions of the Act states that, “…in order to promote competition,” the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary “…may not interfere with the negotiations between drug manufacturers and pharmacies and prescription drug plans.”

There have been various attempts, since 2003, to amend this part of the legislation, as it strictly forbids the Medicare program from using its leverage to essentially force pharmaceutical companies to provide drugs for lower prices. This leverage exists in the form of the 55.3 million Medicare beneficiaries. The 59 state and territorial Medicaid programs have used their numbers – 74.165 million – to successfully negotiate considerably larger rebates from drug manufacturers than the private plans in Medicare Part D “…by a substantial margin” (Department of Health and Human Services, 2015). What differentiates Medicaid from Medicare is that the former is a Federally-funded, state-administered program, where the latter is essentially a model of what other nations refer to as “Universal Coverage.”

Opponents of Medicare drug negotiation argue that allowing the largest government-funded healthcare program to negotiate lower prices will lead pharmaceutical companies to push for higher prices for everyone else (those not enrolled in Medicare). They also argue that the private insurers have greater leverage to negotiate, despite their seeming inability to negotiate better than state governments. Others, still, argue that Medicare negotiation is essentially anti-“Free Market,” and amounts to “price controls” that would serve as a disincentive for drug makers to continue investing in the research and development that produces new drugs (Cubanski & Neuman, 2017).

What makes now-President Trump’s two-paragraph-stock-temblor difficult for pharmaceutical companies – not to mention “Free Market” Republicans – to swallow is that it is entirely heretical to the “small government” line toed by modern Republicans. That a sitting Republican president should dare utter the belief that Big Government should be allowed to use its leverage to “negotiate” (read: “force”) lower drug prices for Medicare is antithetical to everything market-based Republicans and small-government Conservatives have argued for the past forty years. And, let’s be honest: this is the kind of stuff that made and continues to make Trump so troublesome for the Republican Party. He’s unpredictable, often shoots from the hip without a filter, and leaves his mess to be cleaned up by a staff of harried, but loyal adherents who either have to step in and try to translate what he’s said into comprehensible English, or twist themselves into human pretzels to try and convince people that he didn’t actually say what he said, and then, explain what he was supposed to have meant. It’s very unsettling, and often provides political opponents enough artillery to successfully derail his (and thereby their) agenda.

Despite President Trump’s seeming willingness to work with pharmaceutical companies on the issue of FDA approval procedures and regulatory issues (Johnson, 2017), both he and his media surrogates continue to float his argument for Medicare negotiations (Daurat & Olorunnipa, 2017). He also faces considerable opposition from his own party – one that has made no bones about their opposition to the idea.  To their way of thinking, the private sector is better suited to negotiate lower prices, rather than Big Government coming in to tell them what they can charge. His Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, has, in the past, been consistent in his opposition to Medicare drug negotiations and has repeatedly blocked measures that would allow the HHS to do so. In his confirmation hearings, however, he stated that his “boss will be the President of the United States,” in response to questions on the subject. While not an overt statement in support, it came across as more of a resignation that that’s what Trump wants, despite his own wishes.

Congressional Republicans even have some evidence to back up their claims. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has indicated that competition among plan sponsors in Medicare Part D markets has led to lower costs (Congressional Budget Office, 2014). The caveat is that those savings are largely seen only in regions where there are a large number of sponsors – essentially, places where there is a market for their services: areas where retirees have higher incomes. Part of the reason why Medicare Part D has come in at a lower price tag than the CBO initially projected is that enrollment is 12% lower than expected (CBO). Advocates of Medicare negotiation have suggested that this lower enrollment is due to people in smaller markets being unable to afford the monthly expenditure for Part D coverage, as well as the fact that the prices in those smaller markets’ plans simply aren’t low enough to make the plans attractive. Essentially, “Why buy something you can barely afford only to still be unable to afford your medications?”

There’s little question that the coming year is likely to produce many questions about President Trump’s assertion that the drug companies are “getting away with murder,” especially as his positions continue to be amorphous. What this will mean for Medicare has yet to be seen, but you can bet that whatever it is, it will leave critics and proponents, alike, trying to figure out how they got there.


References:



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Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

What is All the Fuss Over Drug Importation?

By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association

The rising cost of prescription drugs is on everyone's mind, and the issue is increasingly being scrutinized by the executive and legislative branches inside the Beltway. Even President Donald J. Trump has raised the issue over prescription drugs costs — though it typically ins't a signature Republican issue — and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has recently introduced legislation to allow drug importation. The debate over drug importation is a complex one, often muddled by talking points by both sides.

Here is how the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) defines drug importation:
"Drug re-importation refers to the practice of importing back to the United States prescription drugs that were originally manufactured in the U.S. and exported for sale in another country. Most often, Americans re-import drugs for personal use by filling their prescriptions in Canadian or Mexican pharmacies, either in person, or through mail-order or Internet pharmacies."1
Proponents of the drug importation cite the need for consumers to access less expensive prescriptions drugs. According to a relatively recent national survey commissioned by Gallup, "27% of Americans name cost as top health problem."2

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) found that one in ten Americans cannot afford their prescription drugs. That same study found approximately 1.6% of consumers have bought prescription drugs from another country.[3]

“There is no reason why drug importation should be a problem for the United States," said Eddie Hamilton of the ADAP Educational Initiative based in Ohio. "Generic Abacavir is already being imported into the U.S. from India  for domestic patients by ADAPs without issue.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders
Photo Source: Huffington Post

The Sanders legislation is only latest attempt by Congress to allow drug importation. It has also gained support from some colleagues — Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Bob Casey (D-PA) — in the Senate who had previously opposed drug importation legislation.

Though AARP hasn't yet endorsed the Sanders legislation (S.469), similar legislation did receive support from the organization. In 2009, AARP Senior Vice President David Sloane argued: “AARP is committed to helping our members and all older Americans have greater access to and reduced costs for the prescription drugs they need, including both through safe importation and other important measures such as closing the dreaded coverage gap in Medicare Part D known as the ‘doughnut hole.’"[3]

Senator Sanders isn't alone in his fight over drug importation, because Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has also introduced similar legislation. The McCain legislation (S.92) has bipartisan support, unlike the Sanders legislation.

Report Cover: "Black Market HIV/AIDS Drugs in the News, 2006-2013" with the AIDS Red Ribbon next to a spoon full of prescription drugs.

Opponents have equally strong arguments against drug importation. Among them, concern over drug safety, including counterfeit or black market drugs. In 2014, a new resource for the HIV/AIDS community and their doctors was made available by the Community Access National Network (CANN) and Partnership for Safe Medicines. The resource, "Black Market HIV Drugs in the News, 2006-2013," sought to increase awareness of the severe health risks posed by counterfeit or black market medicines.[4]

Summarized Bill Arnold, CANN's President & CEO, who continues to have doubts about drug importation: "The importation or re-importation of medications from outlets other than those regulated by the FDA and other U.S. authorities is particularly dangerous for the HIV-positive patient. In the past, anti-retroviral drugs from this grey, or black, market system have turned up in many places. These drugs have turned out to be completely fake, improper potency, contaminated, and worse."

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), who also opposes drug importation, has been very local about pitfalls over the potential lack of drug safety. The issue is characterized as "unsafe and lead to potentially dangerous outcomes for patients."[5]

PhRMA will host a policy briefing on the issue. The briefing, "Safety and the Supply Chain: Ensuring Prescription Medicines are Safe for Patients," will discuss the important role of the FDA in ensuring the safety of medicines from test tube to patient, the threat of counterfeit drugs to patient safety, the importance of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act and the implications of drug importation proposals. It is open to all interested stakeholders, but advance registration is required.[6]

It appears that Senator Sanders anticipated the pushback over drug safety, because his legislation requires foreign sellers to register with the FDA, as well as other safety measures. The add-ons should alleviate some concerns, but not all of them.

The ADAP Advocacy Association has also traditionally opposed drug importation, but it remains open to dialogue on the issue. Like most public policy issues, there is no easy answer or solutions. To that end, drug importation will be part of the conversation during our 10th Annual Conference later this year.

To register for the 10th Annual Conference, go to our website.
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[1] American Association of Retired Persons (AAPR), Prescription Drug Re-Importation Question and Answer Sheet, 2016; available online at http://assets.aarp.org/www.aarp.org_/articles/international/ReimportationQA.pdf.
[2] Gallup, Cost Edges Access as Most Urgent U.S. Health Problem, December 7, 2016; available online at http://www.gallup.com/poll/199169/cost-edges-access-urgent-health-problem.aspx?g_source=prescription+drug+costs&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles
[3] Renal & Urology News, Almost 1 in 10 Americans Can't Afford Medications Says CDC, February 4, 2015; available online at http://www.renalandurologynews.com/news/cdc-americans-can-not-afford-medications-eight-percent/article/395374/
[4] American Association of Retired Persons (AAPR), AARP Response to Senate Block on Prescription Drug Importation Legislation, December 11, 2009; available online at http://www.aarp.org/about-aarp/press-center/info-03-2010/aarp_response_tosenateblockonprescriptiondrugimportationlegislat.html.
[4] Partnership for Safe Medicines, Patient Advocates Warn of Dangers of Black Market HIV Medicines, May 21, 2014; available online at http://www.safemedicines.org/2014/05/patient-advocates-warn-of-dangers-of-black-market-hiv-medicines5-22-14.html.
[5] Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Fact Check Friday: The truth about drug importation and patient safety, February 24, 2017; available online at http://catalyst.phrma.org/fact-check-friday-the-truth-about-drug-importation-and-patient-safety.
[6] Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Safety and the Supply Chain: Ensuring Prescription Medicines are Safe for Patients, February 23, 2017.