Congress Must Address Drug Costs, Disparities, and Transparency to Lower Out-of-Pocket Cancer Spending

June 11, 2019

ASCO submitted comments to Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee leadership regarding draft legislation to address rising out-of-pocket costs for patients in the United States. ASCO’s comments focus on improving patient access to cancer care by reducing prescription drug prices, improving transparency around pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) practices, and improving public health and the exchange of health information.  

ASCO’s recommendations on specific sections of the draft legislation include: 

  • Reducing the Prices of Prescription Drugs — ASCO strongly supports HELP committee efforts to ensure that generic and biologic medications are widely available and have robust competition, which may foster lower cost alternative drug treatments. To that end, the society opposes extending market or data exclusivity periods for small-molecule, generic, orphan, and biologic drugs, and supports the consideration of reducing the current 12-year data exclusivity period of on biologics.
  • Improving Transparency — ASCO’s comments convey the need for greater transparency around the actions of PBMs. ASCO members have expressed serious concerns about the negative effects of certain PBM practices on patients and the cancer care system. ASCO applauds provisions in the draft legislation to promote transparency around the costs, fees, and rebates associated with PBM contracts, as well as the requirement that PBMs not charge more than their cost to acquire a drug. 
  • Improving Public Health — ASCO notes that disparities in cancer outcomes are increasingly predictable. Patients in rural areas are often diagnosed with more advanced cancer and have higher mortality rates. For this reason, ASCO applauds the idea of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grants to increase access to specialty healthcare services in medically underserved areas. Additional research in this area is critical, however, as new approaches will likely be needed to improve outcomes.
  • Improving the Exchange of Health Information — Easy patient access to their health data has long been one of ASCO’s goals for an optimized health information technology ecosystem, but concerns have been raised surrounding the privacy and security of sensitive patient data with the use of patient-facing third-party applications. As such, a Government Accountability Office study of existing gaps is a logical step as the field continues to move forward.

Read the full comment letter.

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