OSF HealthCare Hopeful For Action On Drug Prices Despite Divided Congress | WGLT

OSF HealthCare Hopeful For Action On Drug Prices Despite Divided Congress

Jan 7, 2019

The chief lobbyist for OSF HealthCare says he’s optimistic that a divided Washington might come together to lower prescription drug prices.

Republicans control the Senate and White House, and Democrats have the majority in the House. OSF Vice President of Government Relations Chris Manson said while there will inevitably be some gridlock and political battles, he senses a bipartisan buzz in Washington on tackling drug prices.

"If something is needed, if the country needs something, you'll see people come together."

Manson pointed to the farm bill, criminal justice reform, and opioid epidemic legislation as recent examples of bipartisanship in D.C.

“I’m actually fairly comfortable going into a new Congress where you’ve got split control … because I think at the end of the day, if something is needed, if the country needs something, you’ll see people come together,” Manson said on GLT’s Sound Ideas.  

U.S. patients spent nearly $333 billion on prescription drugs in 2017, according to the National Health Expenditures Survey. That’s an 0.4 percent increase, slower than the 2.3 percent growth in 2016.

President Donald Trump has expressed an interest in tackling drug prices, as recently as a tweet Saturday.

Last month U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts who’s running for president in 2020, introduced legislation that would create a federal Office of Drug Manufacturing. It would be tasked with manufacturing select generic drugs and offering them to consumers at a fair price that guarantees affordable patient access. Companion legislation was introduced in the House.

Manson said he hasn’t studied Warren’s bill closely. But he said OSF agrees with the underlying premise—that there’s a problem with the cost of drugs.

“We would agree 100 percent that the rising costs of pharmaceuticals in this country is not sustainable. And it’s a threat to health care in general, and we definitely have to do something about that,” he said.

Manson said OSF, with $2.8 billion in annual revenue, is also watching closely the future of the 340B drug discount program. The program, created in 1992, provides drug discounts to qualifying hospitals that care for many uninsured and low-income patients. Manson said the drug discount program has made it possible for health care organizations like OSF to open cancer centers, for example, by reducing the price of costly infusion drugs.

Debate around the program is intensifying in Washington, Manson said. He said the pharmaceutical industry has long wanted to scale it back and lobbied lawmakers to do so.

Manson said a “legislative fix might permanently put this fight to bed.”

“If it does happen, it’ll probably be truly bipartisan. At the end of the day, maybe that’s an argument for divided government, because you’ll have to have all the sides together for a solution,” he said. 

Manson also represents Peoria-based OSF at the Statehouse in Springfield. He said OSF, with 124 locations including 13 hospitals mostly in Illinois, is focused on how changes pursued by the incoming Pritzker administration will impact the fiscal stability of state government. The state has racked up billions in unpaid bills, and OSF has been hurt as a provider on two fronts—serving patients who are on Medicaid, and state employees with state health insurance.

“OSF stands ready to work with the new administration and both the Senate and House to try and come up with creative solutions to some of this stuff,” Manson said. “And the hope would be to come up with a solution that creates sustainability and fiscal solvency for the state. And that translates into stronger social safety net programs and a solid Medicaid program that can help us to serve those more vulnerable people in our communities.”

You can also listen to the full interview.

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