What Florida seniors pay for drugs under Medicare became a flash point in confirmation hearings Tuesday for U.S. Rep. Tom Price, the president’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Price said he has retired family members in Florida too, but he does not necessarily support keeping provisions to lower drug costs if “there are better ideas out there.”
President Donald Trump and a new GOP-led Congress have been moving to repeal Obamacare, though what will replace it has not become entirely clear.
Affordable Care Act provisions to close the Medicare “donut hole” are saving Florida’s seniors, on average, nearly $1,000 per year on prescription drugs, according to the outgoing administration. The hole refers to certain costs seniors must pay out of their own pockets.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, provided some of the grilling Tuesday. The transcript here is from his office:
Nelson: I mentioned earlier, and I did so yesterday, that senior citizens – we have 4 million in Florida on Medicare – but there are almost 2 million people in Florida that now get their health care through the ACA and on Medicare Part D, the drugs, what we have tried to do, is close the amount of money that seniors have to pull out of their own pocket, otherwise known as the “donut hole.” You want to comment, Congressman, about whether or not seniors should have retained that federal ability to purchase their drugs?
Price: Well, in view of the fact that two of those senior citizens in your state are my mother-in-law and my father-in-law, I need to tread very carefully here. It’s – the concern that I have about, one of the concerns I have about drugs for being available for seniors is the accessibility of the drugs that they need and desire. And so we need to make sure that formularies aren’t limited, that we aren’t decreasing the access and availability of medications that seniors have available to them for the care that they receive.
Nelson: And so, the part of the ACA that closed that donut hole for senior citizens, you would support that part?
Price: As I say, I think it’s imperative that we provide the greatest amount of opportunity for individual seniors to be able to gain access to the drugs that they need. So often times in these discussions we think whatever we’re doing right now is the only solution that’s possible and I just – again I’m humble enough to believe that there are better ideas out there and if we find a better idea that actually provides greater coverage at a lower cost, more efficiently and more responsive to patients, then we ought to say – we ought to be able to admit that we would embrace that if it were to come along.
Nelson: Congressman, as their senator and as their protector of senior citizens in Florida, I can’t get away with an answer like that. I’ve got to tell them that I am going to support your right to get drugs under Medicare Part D just like you’re getting it now and not take it away from you.
Price: And, I understand that. And I would respectfully suggest that if we used as a society the line, we’re going to maintain the kind of quality coverage that we have right now unless we’re able to improve it and then we just might be able to do that for you.
Nelson: And if I gave them that answer I’d get run out of the room with a group of senior citizens. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.