Governor’s Prescription Drug Task Force Holds First Meeting

November 21, 2019

Governor Tony Evers’ Task Force on Reducing Prescription Drug Prices met for the first time on Nov. 20 in Madison. Door County Medical Center CEO Brian Stephens, nominated by WHA, is a member of the task force.

The task force is charged with making recommendations for reducing prescription drug prices in Wisconsin and will gather and analyze information on the development, pricing, distribution and purchasing of prescription drugs. It will also analyze strategies to reduce prescription drug prices, and survey other states’ initiatives that could be tested in Wisconsin.

The meeting kicked off with video greetings from both Gov. Evers and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin. National Governor’s Association staff and Jane Horvath of Horvath Health Policy delivered a primer on the prescription drug supply chain. They also identified challenges within the supply chain and described state and federal government attempts to gain control over rising prescription drug prices. Wisconsin Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Duane Harlow updated the group on Wisconsin’s involvement in multi-state antitrust lawsuits against certain drug manufacturers.

Task force members discussed several preliminary ideas that might help consumers struggling with the high cost of prescription drugs. Stephens described how drug discount programs available at Door County Medical Center can help patients but noted that he must allocate two staff within the clinic to help patients maneuver the programs’ application processes. He said there is also a feeling that some of the discount programs may be prescription drug sample programs “in disguise” in order to try to get people reliant on name brand drugs in lieu of lower-cost generics.

The task force spent a great deal of time discussing the pros and cons of increasing regulation of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). An issue of concern with PBMs is a lack of transparency about rebates PBMs obtain as part of the negotiation process with manufacturers, and whether consumers and insurers are getting maximum benefits from PBMs. Also discussed was the 340B program, a discounted drug program used by certain disproportionate share hospitals and other entities, and how some state Departments of Corrections are starting to leverage this program for drugs used in correctional facilities. Several members of the task force stressed the importance of the 340B in expanding access to affordable prescription drugs. Anna Benton, the task force representative from the state’s Department of Health Services, noted the impact of high-cost specialty drugs on the Medicaid budget. The task force generally acknowledged that in addition to examining rising prescription drug costs, it is necessary to look at health care costs overall, and that it is also important to look at the overall management of health conditions by methods other than prescription drugs.

Hospitals have a big stake in the task force’s work. A recent study prepared for the American Hospital Association notes, among its many findings:
Average total drug spending per hospital admission increased 18.5% between FYs 2015 and 2017.
The growth in expenditures per hospital admission on inpatient drugs exceeded the Medicare reimbursement update five-fold during the study period.
Hospitals experienced price increases in excess of 80% across different classes of drugs, including those for anesthetics, parenteral solutions, opioid agonists and chemotherapy.

The task force will meet monthly throughout 2020 at various locations around the state, with its next meeting scheduled for Jan. 22 in Milwaukee. Contact WHA Vice President of Policy Development Laura Rose or Director of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter for more information.

This story originally appeared in the November 21, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter