A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is asking the Trump administration to abandon key pieces of its effort to lower drug costs, highlighting the difficulty the White House faces in reversing long-standing policy that would negatively impact some patients, while making medicines more affordable to others.
The plans “put vulnerable patients at risk of declining health by imposing suboptimal therapies,” Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, Barbara Lee, D-Texas, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Billy Long, R-MO., and 39 other members wrote in a letter sent on Wednesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
“These provisions of the proposed rule will have reverberating effects for patients suffering from multiple conditions that are currently covered and exacerbate health disparities among poor and minority communities," they added.
For over a decade, health plans have been required by Medicare to cover certain treatments for cancer, depression, HIV and other diseases – commonly known as the “protected class” – that in absence of medication would cause patients significant suffering.
Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed eliminating those protections, which critics say allowed pharmaceutical firms to significantly hike the cost of the drugs.
The agency also proposed allowing insurers to require that patients be prescribed cheaper medicines before trying costlier versions that are more lucrative in terms of reimbursement for pharmaceutical companies.
While the proposals are intended to help lower prices for consumers, it would not “result in significant cost savings” and would push “access to critical medication out of reach for patients in need,” the lawmakers wrote.
An HHS spokeswoman on Wednesday said the agency "has received the letter and will respond.”
The proposals were viewed by experts as bolstering the power that pharmacy benefit managers hold in negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, who oppose the suggested changes.
The pushback is also reminiscent of the criticism former President Barack Obama faced from members of both parties for trying to advance a sweeping proposal that would have impact federal reimbursement for the drug industry’s most lucrative treatments.