Navarro: Misleading proposals put Arizona’s health care at risk – The Daily Independent at

By Joel Navarro, Tempe Board Member | Guest commentary

As a third-generation Arizonan who has served on the Tempe City Council since 2008, I have always kept a close eye on policies being considered in Washington that may have unintended consequences for our local communities.

Proposals that would take away pharmacy benefits from patients and employers recently caught my attention and should cause concern for anyone receiving health coverage from their employer or a union.

These bills target pharmaceutical subsidy companies, which are key members of the healthcare system that help secure savings for employers, unions, families and patients. Along with the savings, pharmaceutical subsidy companies also help improve health outcomes and provide flexibility and ability for employers to offer their employees prescription drug coverage. They provide at least $145 billion in value each year to our healthcare system.

These proposed policies would increase costs and eliminate options for employers and unions to offer prescription drug coverage, putting care at risk for many of the 45 percent of Arizonans who have employer-sponsored health insurance coverage and for the 169,000 union members in the state. Restricting pharmaceutical companies would mean fewer choices, limiting the ability of unions and businesses to design health care offerings that work best for them and the families they support.

These proposed policies also do nothing to address the high prices of prescription drugs that make health care so expensive for so many Arizonans. Big pharmaceutical companies set the prices of medicines. Nobody else sets the prices for them.

Big Pharma has demonstrated countless times a propensity to maximize its profits by cheating the system to stifle market competition and by setting sky-high prices. Between 2008 and 2021, introductory prices set by big pharma for 500 drugs increased from an average of $2,115 a year in 2008 to $180,000 a year in 2021. In the first few weeks of this year alone, we’ve seen drugmakers raise prices on nearly 1,000 existing drugs.

During a recent hearing, Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, testified, “The vast majority of the money that flows through the system goes into the pockets of Big Pharma…And the reason we have[pharmaceutical benefit managers]is because they’re negotiating a better rate… We know what the prices are. And we know they’re saving us money. And that’s why they (The Congressional Budget Office) give us a score that says if you take them off, the prices go up.

The CBO estimated that a 2019 proposal targeting drug benefit company savings under Medicare Part D would cost taxpayers $177 billion over 10 years. CBO also found that eliminating savings, guaranteed in the form of rebates, would increase premiums for seniors by an average of 25%.

People in our communities cannot afford to lose the savings provided by pharmaceutical subsidy companies and should not face the risk of losing the health care coverage they now have if the options that support those plans are taken away from their employer or union.

The only entity that will benefit from these proposals is the pharmaceutical industry, so it’s no wonder they are behind these policies that will only harm Arizonans. When asked who would benefit from legislation targeting pharmaceutical benefits, University of Chicago economics professor Casey Mulligan said, “The winners are the manufacturers … There will be less competition between manufacturers like Big Pharma.”

Arizona lawmakers should send a strong message to Big Pharma that their days of price gouging are over.

Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly have been strong advocates of protecting our health benefits and driving down prescription drug prices by holding Big Pharma accountable. For example, Senator Sinema recently opposed the flawed Pharmacy Benefit Manager Transparency Act, one of several misleading proposals that would undermine health care benefits.

I strongly urge our leaders in Congress to protect our health benefits by opposing misleading proposals that target pharmaceutical companies. Instead, we continue to hold Big Pharma accountable for making prescription drugs more affordable for Arizonans.

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