Health Care

Medicare drug prices too high? Democrats and Donald Trump have an idea

Reintroduced legislation would give Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices for seniors.
Reintroduced legislation would give Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices for seniors. AP

Alarmed by the spiraling costs of your prescription drugs covered under Medicare?

Keep your fingers crossed. There's a movement in Washington to bring down costs for seniors.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, reintroduced legislation that would give the Health and Human Services Secretary the ability to negotiate the price of prescriptions under Medicare. Under current law Medicare cannot do this. Medicaid, on the other hand, can set prices.

The Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act would abolish the “non-interference” law that bans Medicare from negotiating. Brown hopes the bill will help government wield the bargaining power of nearly 41 million seniors to negotiate bigger price discounts, boosting savings for taxpayers and trimming costs for those enrolled in Medicare Part D. Right now the U.S. pays far more than other countries for pharmaceutical drugs.

The bill, which is supported the advocacy group AARP, is also sponsored by other Democratic senators, and they've approached President-elect Donald Trump to suggest ways of lowering prescription drug costs. (Trump has said he wants to bring down drug prices and supports giving Medicare the teeth to negotiate better prices.)

The December group letter to Trump suggested allowing the Secretary of HHS to negotiate better prices for seniors, encouraging competition with generics; boosting innovation to have better drugs are available promoting and requiring drug companies to reveal manufacturing costs.

On Monday departing Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell agreed giving Medicare authority to negotiate drug prices would keep rising costs under control for the program’s recipients. But Washington insiders say passing a law to permit this will be an uphill battle.

"God help him,” Acting Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Andy Slavitt told the JP Morgan Health Care Conference in San Francisco on Monday. “He’s not wrong, but you need a lot of ... to coin a phrase that’s been used, a fair amount of stamina if you are going to deal with the pharmaceutical industry on this topic.”

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