Today's hearing will focus on the Medicare Part D prescription drug program.
When President Bush signed the Part D benefit into law, Democrats had many concerns. We thought the structure of the law was too confusing for beneficiaries. We thought that the donut hole was bad for seniors. And we felt that the law did not do enough to reduce drug costs. Most of us voted against it.
But Mr. Chairman, we didn't find dozens of ways to sabotage the program. We didn't send out massive document requests in order to delay and intimidate contractors. We didn't shut down the government to try to force its repeal or vote over 40 times to repeal the law.
Instead, we worked with the Bush Administration to make sure our constituents could get the benefits they deserved. And ultimately, as part of the Affordable Care Act, we improved benefits, closing the Part D donut hole.
Mr. Chairman, your constituents, and the nation, would be much better off if your party took a similar approach to the Affordable Care Act.
We improved the Part D law, but there are still adjustments we can make to strengthen the program for both beneficiaries and taxpayers, improving transparency and addressing fraud and abuse. CMS recently proposed a rule that would make some of those changes.
I appreciate the agency's efforts: they show that the Administration continues to work to improve Medicare for seniors.
The proposed Part D rule provisions would increase transparency and increase access to community pharmacy services. Many community pharmacies have been unable to participate in Part D plans "preferred networks" even if they are willing to meet the plans' preferred prices. CMS proposes to allow any pharmacy who can meet the plan's prices to participate. This change should increase pharmacy access for patients, particularly in underserved communities where patients may not have access to preferred pharmacies.
CMS has also proposed simplifying beneficiary choices under Part D. CMS and patient advocates have long noted that seniors find the array of plan choices dizzying and that plans are using the multitude of choices to segment risk and maximize profit. It makes sense for both the patient and the taxpayer that CMS address these matters.
There are other places where I would like to see the agency rethink its approach, in particular the Six Protected Classes Policy.
I share the Administration's goal of lowering prices and ensuring that Medicare is able to get the best deal possible. CMS has correctly observed that eliminating some drugs from the protected classes category would allow Part D plans to negotiate for lower prices. But it is hard to ignore the concerns of patient groups and Medicare advocates that these changes will make it more difficult for seniors to get the drugs they need.
There is a better way. Adopting my Part D drug rebate bill -- the Medicare Drug Savings Act -- would be a much sounder, and beneficiary-friendly approach. The bill would allow Part D to get the same discounts on drugs for low-income seniors that Medicaid and private-sector purchasers receive. It would, according to CBO, save over $140 billion over the next decade.
The Administration was correct to include this provision in its new budget. It's a common-sense idea that would save taxpayers billions of dollars without affecting access to Part D drugs for seniors.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased that Deputy Administrator Jon Blum is here today to explain CMS' approach in the Part D rule, and I look forward to discussing how we can improve Part D for seniors and reduce taxpayer costs.