The Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit bucked the trend of government bloat and failure by introducing real consumer choice and competition among providers to keep costs down. It came in under budget and expanded drug treatment to lessen chronic medical conditions among seniors, thereby lessening the need for more expensive and acute treatments down the road.
But that progress could be undone if the government does not act swiftly to ensure real competition is maintained by making sure small businesses are given genuine opportunity to compete for federal contracts.
Every other federal program must ensure that at least 36 percent of all federal contracts go to small business. Yet the Medicare prescription-drug program is exempted from that requirement. Why? The only conclusion to draw is to protect the big pharmacy-network monopolies, sweetheart deals and windfall profits.
Because small pharmacies are effectively excluded from the Part D program, the two biggest pharmacy-benefit managers cover more than half of all pharmacy benefits in the Medicare program. Add in the next two companies, and that market control climbs to 79 percent. This has led to anti-competitive practices that, if practiced in any other part of the Medicare system, would be considered illegal Medicare fraud.
The government tried to restore small-business access to the Medicare prescription-drug program last year, but the big pharmacy-benefit managers and their Washington lobbyists killed those common-sense proposals by carpet-bombing Capitol Hill with lobbyists and money.
But with his recent appointment as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and with almost 950,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Wisconsin, Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville has a fantastic opportunity to improve pharmacy competition and access for residents of Wisconsin and the country.
Rep. Ryan has a well-deserved reputation for cutting government waste and reining in out-of-control government spending. The 60 Plus Association has been proud to support him as he fought government waste. We will support him again if he uses his new position to battle excessive government spending forced on Medicare by rapacious pharmacy benefit managers bent on fleecing seniors for every last dollar of profit they can get.
We at 60 Plus—a nonpartisan seniors-advocacy group with a free-enterprise, less-government, lower-taxes approach to issues—recently partnered with the innovative pharmacy industry association, AccessRx America. AccessRx America has presented a compelling case for how Medicare can have real competition by restoring small-business access rules for Medicare Part D and providing the opportunity for real competition by the small chain, community and independent pharmacies that make up more than a third of all of America’s pharmacies.
We urge Rep. Ryan to make good use of his new role in leading the House Ways & Means Committee to implement the common-sense solutions AccessRx America has proposed that would restore fair competition in the Medicare Part D market.