Brown unveils 3-point plan

Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown says his three-point prescription drug reform plan should save lives and money.

During a media teleconference, Brown outlined Wednesday his health reform bill to lower prescription drug costs for consumers, especially for senior citizens on government health insurance — and by doing lowering drug costs it should also reduce the federal deficit because the government would be able to pay less for needed medications.

“Everyone in Washington, D.C., you know, is focused on fiscal issues as families in Ohio have been concerned with this issue for some time and no doubt in an era of sequestration it is the topic in newsrooms and board rooms across the state,” Brown said. “Let me be clear on this — we cannot solve our problem with cuts alone. Austerity isn’t working in Europe and it won’t work in Euclid and Elyria, it won’t work anywhere in our state.

“We need to reduce the deficit and we need a balanced approach — which means everything is on the table,” the senator said. “Of course, we need to increase revenues and we have to make wise choices about where to cut.”

On the table for Brown is reducing health care costs for seniors and easing the budget crunch at the federal level.

Brown, who chairs the Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pension and Family Policy, unveiled a plan to reform prescription drug plans administered through Medicare and Social Security “to reduce the deficit without raising the retirement age and without cutting Medicare benefits.”

His three-point plan calls for allowing the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to negotiate volume discounts on prescription drugs for Medicare. This would enable DHHS officials to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, similar to the tactics used by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was able to purchase the 10 most prescribed drugs at nearly a 50 percent cost savings.

He estimated this would save the federal government $240 billion over the next 10 years.

He proposes allowing the safe importation of prescription drugs from Canada and Australia again.

Citing a 2007 Congressional Budget Office report, he estimated this would save the government $5.4 billion.

He also proposed reducing the exclusivity period for biologic drugs developed by brand name drug makers from generic makers to seven years from a strict 12-year monopoly period. Biologic drugs are drugs derived from a living organism and are used to treat conditions such as breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

He estimated this would save the American health care system more than $3.5 billion in the next 10  years for a combined total savings of nearly $250 billion over of the next decade.

The senator said health reforms under President Obama have already saved nearly 179,000 Ohio seniors approximately $138.5 million in prescription drug costs in 2012 alone and a total of $278 million since 2010.

In a report provided by Brown, nearly 700 Auglaize County seniors have saved $523,000 with the “donut hole” in Medicare being partially closed.

The “donut hole” is created by a drug coverage gap in private Medicare Part D coverage. Until the passage of the health law, senior citizens entered the donut hole by exceeding the prescription drug coverage limit. They then were responsible for paying 100 percent of their drug costs until catastrophic coverage covered the cost of the drugs.

Brown was joined on the media teleconference by Mariette Louisin, a senior citizen from Akron, who discussed her family’s prescription drug costs and the money she has able to save by having this donut hole partially closed. She said it has enabled her to help her sister with her medical bills.  

Brown said he wants to do more.

“We can do more to cut health care costs for taxpayers and for the Medicare program,” Brown said. “I believe these are three actions are ones we can take to reduce prescription drug costs for American citizens and help the government save money.”