Dialysis Patients Are Counting on Congress to Pass the Bipartisan BETTER Kidney Care

By Brendan Flanagan

As the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated headlines and airwaves over the past year and a half, immunosuppressed Americans have received special attention in our conversations about public health and healthcare policy. Now, even as vaccination rates climb, we need to continue to find ways to care for some of the most vulnerable Americans, including those right here in Arizona.

One group of immunosuppressed patients that hasn’t received enough attention, though, is patients with kidney disease. In Arizona alone, there are over 14,000 kidney disease patients receiving dialysis treatments. That’s over 14,000 friends and neighbors who desperately need our help. At a moment when our world is increasingly aware of public health issues, it’s especially important that we continue to identify ways we can help kidney patients and improve the way End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) is treated in the U.S. 

Right now, there’s a bipartisan bill introduced by Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) called the BETTER Kidney Care Act which could help. This bill could streamline how we treat kidney patients while also offering some other vital services that make their life-saving treatments more accessible. For some patients, it can also help better prepare them to eventually receive a kidney transplant. 

One of the bill’s main goals is to make coordinated care services – which are severely needed – more broadly available for ESRD patients. It’s common for ESRD patients to also have diabetes, heart disease, or other conditions in addition to their kidney disease, meaning they need to see a range of different doctors and care providers who prescribe different treatments and medications that may interfere with one another. Without an easy way for doctors to stay in touch with each other, it falls on the patient to make sure each doctor knows what the others are doing. 

With the coordinated care provisions of the BETTER Kidney Care Act, it will be easier for those doctors to get on the same page, which will help to improve overall care and ensure that all of a patient’s needs are being fully addressed. In the end, they’ll have fewer appointments to attend and spend less on medical bills. 

This bill does more than simply make it easier for patients’ doctors to communicate treatments and prescriptions, though. It also offers transportation to and from a dialysis patient’s local clinic. Since it’s difficult for many patients to get to and from their clinic without someone being there to assist them, these services make it easier for patients to keep up with their appointments and stay healthy, which is a major benefit considering most dialysis patients need to go into their clinic three or four times each week for exhausting treatments that can take several hours. 

Beyond transportation, it also notably provides dental care, something a lot of ESRD patients don’t otherwise have access to. It’s hugely important, however, for patients who are trying to get a kidney transplant. Offering dental care means that patients can be sure they’re remaining on track to receive a kidney transplant, which is already a difficult enough process. 

The BETTER Kidney Care Act is a crucial step toward improving the way we treat kidney patients in the U.S., and it’s encouraging to see lawmakers like Senator Sinema leading the way on this issue. Kidney patients in Arizona are counting on them and this life-saving bill. 

Dialysis patients need more attention in our discussions about healthcare policy, and the BETTER Kidney Care Act is where lawmakers should start. It’s promising for Arizonans that Senator Sinema helped bring this bill forward, but it’s not enough. Dialysis patients across America need our help, and it starts with Congress passing this crucial legislation.  

With new drug pricing order, Trump flirts with socialized medicine

With new drug pricing order, Trump flirts with socialized medicine

BY MERRILL MATTHEWS

President Trump’s recent executive order on drug prices gets almost everything right — except the solution. Ironically, that solution moves the United States toward socialized medicine, which the president vociferously opposes.

The order says, “Americans pay more per capita for prescription drugs than residents of any other developed country.” That’s certainly true for most brand name drugs, though Americans typically pay much less for generic drugs, which account for about 90 percent of all U.S. prescriptions — a fact often ignored in the health policy debates.

The EO is also correct that “Americans pay more for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same places.” As a result, Americans “finance much of the biopharmaceutical innovation that the world depends on.” https://d0a997f558a95ead2e8d0c2375aca6dd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html#xpc=sf-gdn-exp-4&p=https%3A//thehill.com

But Trump’s executive order won’t fix these problems. It will only make it as hard for American patients to obtain the newest, cutting-edge drugs as it is for many patients in foreign countries the president wants to emulate. 

The order forbids Medicare from paying more for drugs than the lowest price available in any member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), after adjusting for per-capita income. Trump calls it a “most-favored-nation price.” 

The order claims those nations enjoy low drug prices because they “negotiate” with pharmaceutical manufacturers. But what the order describes as a negotiation is more akin to a hostage-taking — with their own citizens held for ransom. 

Bureaucrats in those nations’ systems – most of which are largely or completely controlled by the government – often refuse to cover drugs unless manufacturers sell the medicines far below fair-market prices. 

In Canada, for example, just 46 percent of new drugs approved worldwide between 2011 and 2018 are actually available to Canadian patients. And the average delay between approval and availability in Canada is 15 months. In the United Kingdom, it’s 59 percent and 18 months.https://d0a997f558a95ead2e8d0c2375aca6dd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html#xpc=sf-gdn-exp-5&p=https%3A//thehill.com

But in the United States it’s 87 percent and three months or less.

Those are months – and in some countries, years – that patients go without access to the newest treatments. Some drugs are never made available. 

The U.S. government doesn’t treat its people so callously — or at least it hasn’t. Medicare covers virtually every FDA-approved medicine, and it sets reimbursements based on prices in the commercial market. This market-based pricing ensures that the newest drugs are available and doctors, not government gatekeepers, decide which drugs to prescribe. 

It’s a shame that the president has adopted other countries’ socialized medicine prices because he so often criticizes foreign freeloading. 

Recall that when Trump took office, he saw that our NATO allies were not paying their fair share toward the alliance’s mutual defense, even though the members had for years committed to raising their defense spending to at least 2 percent of GDP to support the alliance. 

With new drug pricing order, Trump flirts with socialized medicine

President Trump’s recent executive order on drug prices gets almost everything right — except the solution. Ironically, that solution moves the United States toward socialized medicine, which the president vociferously opposes.

The order says, “Americans pay more per capita for prescription drugs than residents of any other developed country.” That’s certainly true for most brand name drugs, though Americans typically pay much less for generic drugs, which account for about 90 percent of all U.S. prescriptions — a fact often ignored in the health policy debates.

The EO is also correct that “Americans pay more for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same places.” As a result, Americans “finance much of the biopharmaceutical innovation that the world depends on.” https://d0a997f558a95ead2e8d0c2375aca6dd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html#xpc=sf-gdn-exp-4&p=https%3A//thehill.com

But Trump’s executive order won’t fix these problems. It will only make it as hard for American patients to obtain the newest, cutting-edge drugs as it is for many patients in foreign countries the president wants to emulate. 

The order forbids Medicare from paying more for drugs than the lowest price available in any member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), after adjusting for per-capita income. Trump calls it a “most-favored-nation price.” 

The order claims those nations enjoy low drug prices because they “negotiate” with pharmaceutical manufacturers. But what the order describes as a negotiation is more akin to a hostage-taking — with their own citizens held for ransom. 

Bureaucrats in those nations’ systems – most of which are largely or completely controlled by the government – often refuse to cover drugs unless manufacturers sell the medicines far below fair-market prices. 

In Canada, for example, just 46 percent of new drugs approved worldwide between 2011 and 2018 are actually available to Canadian patients. And the average delay between approval and availability in Canada is 15 months. In the United Kingdom, it’s 59 percent and 18 months.https://d0a997f558a95ead2e8d0c2375aca6dd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html#xpc=sf-gdn-exp-5&p=https%3A//thehill.com

But in the United States it’s 87 percent and three months or less.

Those are months – and in some countries, years – that patients go without access to the newest treatments. Some drugs are never made available. 

The U.S. government doesn’t treat its people so callously — or at least it hasn’t. Medicare covers virtually every FDA-approved medicine, and it sets reimbursements based on prices in the commercial market. This market-based pricing ensures that the newest drugs are available and doctors, not government gatekeepers, decide which drugs to prescribe. 

It’s a shame that the president has adopted other countries’ socialized medicine prices because he so often criticizes foreign freeloading. 

Recall that when Trump took office, he saw that our NATO allies were not paying their fair share toward the alliance’s mutual defense, even though the members had for years committed to raising their defense spending to at least 2 percent of GDP to support the alliance. ADVERTISING

Trump did not respond to this inequity by swearing the United States would only spend as much as our stingiest ally. Instead, he called them out publicly and exhorted our allies to increase their contributions to our mutual defense, which was in everyone’s interest. And they responded.

With medicines, too, our allies don’t pull their weight, content to let U.S. patients and taxpayers carry the load. That hurts Americans and Europeans alike. If Europeans paid 20 percent more for drug costs – hardly closing the gap – Americans and Europeans would gain a combined $17.5 trillion benefit in overall welfare over 50 years, according to an analysis from University of Southern California researchers

New drugs – which cost an average of $1.6 billion each to develop – are paid for by the revenue from current treatments. That’s the capital drug manufacturers used to begin research on a COVID-19 vaccine — long before the federal government ponied up any cash.

If we cut that revenue stream, it’ll lead to less R&D and fewer innovative treatments in the future. One study of adopting “international reference pricing,” which is similar to the most-favored-nation pricing approach, found that it could reduce new drug discovery by 88 percent. That’s too high a price to pay for cheaper drugs now. When friends and allies engage in self-destructive behavior, the correct response is not to emulate their mistakes, but to help them choose a better path. Today, the majority of new drugs invented globally are invented in America, in large part because our government does not dictate prices. The president should keep it that way, and, just as he did with NATO, demand that our allies fall in line. 

BY MERRILL MATTHEWS, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR— Appearing in the Hill on 10/08/20

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Martha McSally Making A Difference to Fix Failed Healthcare

By Southern Arizona Sam

Martha McSallyThe so-called “Affordable Care Act,” better known as Obamacare, has been a disaster any way you look at it.

First, it promised to bring down the cost of healthcare for middle class Americans. Wrong: premiums and other out of pocket costs continue to sore.

Second, President Obama promised people that if they liked their healthcare or their doctors, they could keep them. As we all know that has proven to be false as well.

As with most complicated federal programs, Obamacare created more red tape, more bureaucracy, created higher costs, and created shrinking healthcare options. With less competition, costs seem poised to sky rocket even further.

The political facts demonstrate that the American people, and certainly Arizonans, are opposed to Obamacare. First, in 2010, Republicans took the majority of the House in one of the largest electoral shifts in American history. Then in 2014, they reclaimed the Senate. Both did so on a platform of fixing, repealing, or replacing Obamacare.

With just weeks to go before the 2016 Presidential election, in states like Arizona, many people received notice that they were going to lose their healthcare in 2017. The plan simply didn’t work for many insurance companies and doctors. Obamacare promised coverage and yet many Arizonan’s were two months away from losing coverage.

The new Republican healthcare alternative has had its detractors but here are the facts about the bill.

  1. It will create more competition in the marketplace. This will give consumers more options and lower costs.
  2. It will allow people with pre-existing conditions to have healthcare.
  3. It will provide a stable transition so that people can keep coverage as they move to the new plan.

In Arizona, we should applaud Congresswoman Martha McSally, Congressmen Trent Franks, Paul Gosar, and David Schweikert for supporting this bill. It is a promise kept to voters and shows a real recognition that the current healthcare system is unsustainable and unworthy of the greatest nation in the world.

Congresswoman McSally should garner special mention for her leadership. She is getting criticized for her vote but she is doing what she promised the voters she would do. She also fought for the interests of ALL Americans by adding an amendment to eliminate healthcare exemptions for members of Congress. 

We should be very proud of our Congresswoman McSally and those Republicans who stood up for lower health care costs for all Arizonans. We applaud her service to her constituents.