Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins announced today that the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 passed the Health Committee today by a vote of 20-3. Senator Collins, a member of the Committee, has advocated for this bipartisan legislation to reduce the cost of health care and prescription drugs. The bill will now be considered by the full Senate.
“Far too many Americans are struggling with the skyrocketing cost of health care, which places severe strain on family budgets and threatens access to the care and medications they need,” said Senator Collins. “Increasing the affordability of health care is one of my highest priorities. As Chairman of the Aging Committee, I have conducted an extensive investigation into the soaring cost of prescription drugs and authored new laws to address this issue. This bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate Health Committee today takes several additional steps to lower the cost of health care by promoting competition, increasing transparency, and banning anti-competitive practices that plague the current market.”
The Lower Health Care Costs Act includes portions of the Biologic Patent Transparency Act, a bill Senator Collins authored that would require drug companies to provide earlier and greater disclosure of the web of patents that protect biologics, which are among the most complex, expensive drugs on the market today. As a result, Senator Collins’ bill would make it easier for biosimilar competitors to evaluate and plan for the development of these drugs, as well as give more teeth to the “list it or lose it” patent provisions under existing law. According to former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, if all of the biosimilars that have been approved by the FDA were successfully marketed in the U.S. in a timely fashion, Americans would have saved more than $4.5 billion in 2017.
The Lower Health Care Costs Act takes a five-pronged approach to lowering the cost of health care:
· First, it promotes prescription drug competition and transparency through a number of provisions aimed at removing barriers to market entry. Altogether, by making the drug supply more transparent and navigable, the bill should increase the number of lower cost generic and biosimilar drugs available to patients. In addition to containing portions of Senator Collins’ Biologic Patent Transparency Act, the bill includes the CREATES Act, which addresses anticompetitive practices of companies to delay access or even block access to a sufficient quantity of the brand name drug to do the bioequivalence studies that the FDA requires for generic drug approval.
· Second, it ends surprise medical bills by establishing patient protections for when a patient receives out-of-network care in emergency circumstances or is unintentionally treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility. This provision importantly takes the patient out of negotiations between insurers and providers.
· Third, it creates more transparency in the health care system, which will empower both patients and payers to be more cost-conscious health care consumers.
· Fourth, it prioritizes proven public health initiatives such as reducing youth tobacco usage by raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21 and improving vaccine awareness. The bill also importantly reauthorizes programs that support access in health care in rural areas, including the Community Health Centers program, the National Health Service Corps, and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program.
· Fifth, it encourages improvements in the way health information is exchanged by furthering cybersecurity measures and the portability of health data.
The Lower Health Care Costs Act also includes a five-year reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program, which has been instrumental in promoting advances in diabetes care such as the artificial pancreas system. Senator Collins is the founder and co-chair of the Senate Diabetes Caucus. Last month, Senator Collins and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the co-chairs of the Senate Diabetes Caucus, co-authored a letter to Senate leadership emphasizing the importance of the Special Diabetes Program (SDP) that was signed by a total of 68 bipartisan Senators. Without action in Congress this year, funding for the SDP is set to expire on September 30th.
The bill also expands perinatal quality collaboratives to improve maternal and perinatal health, which is included in legislation the Quality Care for Moms and Babies Act, legislation introduced earlier this week by Senator Stabenow (D-MI)and Senator Collins.
At the markup, Senator Collins spoke about the critical importance of reauthorizing the successful Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education Program, which trains physicians in underserved, community-based settings. Senator Collins is the lead sponsor of legislation, the Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act, to bolster and expand this successful training program. Her bill would reauthorize the program at $647.5 million over five years to support residency programs across the United States. It would also authorize a total of $60 million over five years to create new Teaching Health Centers and allow existing Teaching Health Centers to expand and provide new services—such as psychiatry and dentistry—to meet the growing need for community health care.
Over the last two years, the Senate Health Committee held 16 hearings on a range of topics related to reducing the cost of health care. The Lower Health Care Costs Act is composed of 54 proposals from 65 senators to reduce what Americans pay out of their own pockets for health care.