Senators cosponsor bill to cut prescription drug costs

Late last week, U.S. Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde Smith outlined their support for a bipartisan effort to lower drug costs for seniors and improve financial certainty for local independent pharmacies.

The Mississippi Senators are original cosponsors of the Phair Relief Act (S.2247), which would put a five-year moratorium on direct or indirect remuneration (DIR) or “clawback” fees imposed on local pharmacies by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs)—all with the intent of savings being passed on to customers.

“I hear regularly from Mississippians about the high-cost of prescription drugs,” Wicker said.  “The Phair Relief Act is a sensible step toward lowering out-of-pocket drug prices for Mississippi’s seniors and restoring sanity to Medicare’s pharmacy benefits program for local providers.”

“Gaming the complex prescription drug system makes it harder both for our local pharmacies and for the seniors, who rely on affordable life-saving medications.  This bill would stop the clawback fee system, which is being abused in a manner that does not benefit taxpayers, Medicare beneficiaries, or small businesses,” said Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Mississippi Independent Pharmacies Association (MIPA), which represents 180 independent pharmacies in Mississippi, supports the measure.

“The Mississippi Independent Pharmacies Association greatly appreciates the help from Senators Wicker and Hyde-Smith.  The Phair Relief Act will help seniors and struggling independent pharmacies in Mississippi from the unfair and harmful DIR fees,” said MIPA Executive Director Robert Hugh Dozier.

DIR fees, often imposed randomly and retroactively, create financial challenges for local pharmacies and increase out-of-pocket costs for prescription medications for Medicare Part D beneficiaries.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated last fall that a similar proposal to require PBMs to account for these retroactive DIR fees at the point of sale would save seniors between $7.1 billion and $9.2 billion over 10 years on out-of-pocket drug costs.

In providing greater transparency of discounts provided by drug manufacturers and establishing pharmacy-negotiated price concessions, the bipartisan legislation would offer local pharmacies greater financial certainty.  Unpredictable DIR clawbacks not only cost patients but also make business operations for small-town local independent pharmacies difficult.

U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) introduced S.2247 with these additional original cosponsors:  Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.),and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which has been working on legislation to address the problem of escalating prescription drug prices.