WASHINGTON — Retail pharmacy continues to lobby to maintain its seat at the table in the continuing debate on how or whether to reform the nation’s health care system.
During the recent congressional recess, some legislators held town hall/community meetings at which the local citizenry voiced their opinions on various health care proposals.
But other congressmen, including Rep. Brad Miller (D., N.C.), discussed health care issues with chain drug executives like Kerr Drug chief executive officer Tony Civello to learn the value of pharmacy services in improving patient outcomes.
Similarly, National Association of Chain Drug Stores president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson accompanied Rep. Dave Loebsack (D., Iowa) on a tour of a Hartig Drug store.
At presstime, President Obama was slated to address a joint session of Congress in a bid to rally support for his health care proposals. Obama was expected to elaborate on his recommendations for improving health care and cutting costs rather than to outline any new suggestions.
Despite significant opposition to much of the White House plan, Obama was expected to focus on potential areas of agreement, including the need for federal subsidies to make health insurance available to the millions of low-income Americans who have minimal coverage or lack insurance.
Most of the division has been along party lines. During the August recess, amid polls indicating waning public support for the Obama plan, Democrats were crafting strategies to demonstrate that Republicans were to blame for the stalemate.
Some Democrats reiterated their support for a new government-run insurance program. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), for example, believes that a public insurance plan is essential to reducing costs. He and other proponents argue that a public plan without a profit motive would operate with reduced overhead expenses and lower executive salaries than under a private insurance system.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) argues that a public insurance program would bankrupt the nation. And such Republicans as Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming have charged that Democrats are cutting “hundreds of billions of dollars’’ in health care programs for the elderly and that the government would restrict or reject care based on such factors as a patient’s age or disability. Nevertheless, a spokesman for Enzi has insisted that the senator remains committed to achieving a bipartisan agreement on health care reform.
Separately, a report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concludes that under some proposals Medicare beneficiaries would frequently face higher premiums for prescription drug coverage, although others would see their total drug spending reduced. The CBO asserts that premiums for drug coverage would advance in 2011 by an average of 5% and that the increase would expand to 20% in 2019.
“In return for those higher premiums, enrollees would receive greater protection against incurring high drug costs; as a result, beneficiaries’ spending on prescription drugs apart from the premiums would decrease,” CBO director Douglas Elmendorf wrote to Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.
In a related action, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a report focusing on what the department identifies as the problems with the status quo in a system in which seniors are paying escalating health care costs. The study concludes that health insurance reform will bolster Medicare and protect coverage for seniors while improving the quality of care.
Despite heated opposition to the Obama plan, as expressed at some town hall meetings, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month finds that most Americans continue to believe that the country’s economic challenges make it “more important than ever’’ for the nation to take on the issue of health care reform.
In the poll, 53% said that now is the time to address health care changes, compared with 42% who oppose such action.