Braun seeks to lower prescription drug costs



WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just as he did as an Indiana legislator, new U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., has introduced bills in the U.S. Congress that tackle aspects of health-care reform.

One of the bills seems to have already enacted a response from one health-care company, UnitedHealth Group.

The goal of the Drug Price Transparency Act (S. 657) is to encourage pharmacy benefits managers to pass discounts from drug manufacturers directly to consumers and bring transparency to the prescription drug market.

UnitedHealth announced Tuesday it would do that itself, by passing any discounts directly to consumers instead of pharmacy benefits managers, which Braun touted as a victory.

“By UnitedHealth making this decision, it shows that this bill has great credibility,” Braun, who hails from Jasper, said Tuesday evening.

The bill would prohibit pharmacy benefits managers from receiving any rebates or reductions in price from drug manufacturers, and would require any rebates or reduction in price from a drug manufacturer for any drug be made transparent and reflected at the point of sale to the consumer.

Pharmacy benefits managers are large companies that negotiate which drugs are covered by insurance. They are offered rebates by pharmaceutical companies during negotiations, which critics have said are often kept by companies instead of being passed on to the consumer.

A second bill, the Accelerated Drug Approval for Prescription Therapies Act (S. 658), would create an expedited drug approval process at the Federal Drug Administration for drugs that are currently approved for sale in developed countries, such as EU members, Israel, Australia, Canada and Japan. The FDA would be encouraged to review expeditiously drug applications for qualifying prescription drugs that have been approved and sold in developed nations with satisfactory history of clinical trials and data.

The third bill, the Efficiency and Transparency in Petitions Act (S. 660), would require any petition submitted to the FDA regarding a pending generic drug application be submitted within a year of when the petitioner first discovers the issue that is the basis for the petition.

“I’m offering solutions to address rising healthcare prices by adding transparency to our drug pricing, clearing the backlog on pending drug applications at the FDA, and providing oversight and accountability within the healthcare industry,” Braun said soon after submitting the bills last week.

As an Indiana state representative, Braun proposed three bills in the 2017 General Assembly that dealt with transparency of information that was made available to people. Those bills, which were not approved, would have required health providers to publish fees for services they provide, along with the Medicare cost for the same procedures; allowed people to purchase and sell health insurance policies across state lines; and required hospitals to make public the contracts they have with providers. That led to a lot of public discussion about the availability of information. As part of those discussions, the Indiana Hospital Association heavily promoted at that time the website, which was launched in 2015 and shows customers the cost of different procedures at Indiana hospitals.

“A lot of times you have to be the one who gets it out there, to get the discussion going,” Braun said Tuesday. “And good things can happen.”

The goal of the three bills Braun has proposed in Congress is to lower prescription drug costs, Braun said. Although there has already been some change, he plans to continue pushing the bills into law.

“(UnitedHealth’s decision) is the best reason I should keep doing this,” he said. “I want everyone to do this for consumers. This just sets the stage for the bills having justification.”

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