Zurik: HHS Secretary says ‘revolutionary’ changes to come for drug prices



METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) – A law signed by President Donald Trump as a result of the ‘Medical Waste’ Investigation is the start of ‘revolutionary’ changes to drug prices in the United States, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Louisiana pharmacists Wednesday.

Azar was in New Orleans to speak to the Association for Accessible Medicines and to meet with Louisiana pharmacists about the progress that has been made following the extensive ‘Medical Waste’ Investigation by FOX 8 News.

Click here to watch our ‘Medical Waste’ Investigative Series

Much of the years-long investigation focused on pharmacy benefit managers – or PBM’s – middlemen often in control of how much you pay for prescription medications.

“The biggest PBM is bigger than Walt Disney, McDonalds and Eli Lilly combined,” Doug Hoey, with the National Community Pharmacists Association, said during our investigation. “Those three iconic companies together are not as big as the biggest PBM, Express Scripts – yet most consumers have no idea what Express Scripts is.”

The PBM’s set up a system where they get rebates – or kickbacks – from drug companies. That money they collect, helps pad the PBM’s books.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar speaks to Louisiana pharmacists during a visit to a Metairie pharmacy on Feb. 6.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar speaks to Louisiana pharmacists during a visit to a Metairie pharmacy on Feb. 6.

“Right now drug companies are giving kickbacks or rebates to middlemen who decide which drugs you get to take. But when you show up here at a pharmacy, you don’t get a benefit of that kickback or that rebate as a discount, it stays there with the middleman,” Azar said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with Chief Investigative Reporter Lee Zurik. “As of January 1, you would get that discount when you show up at the pharmacy.”

Azar told the pharmacists the savings for their customers could be significant. He said the average could be twenty to thirty percent in savings, but in some cases the discount could be much larger.

The directive from the President only applies to the Medicare Part D Program. But Secretary Azar thinks the savings will trickle down to other private plans too.

“We don’t directly regulate the private plans but we think the changes we’re making in Medicare will cause the private plans to change their practices also,” Azar said. “We’d ask Congress to take a look at this — Congress could make that happen across the plans immediately.”

Among the pharmacists at Wednesday’s meeting of pharmacists was Hammond pharmacist Ricky Mannino. He’s the pharmacist who initially tipped us and started the Medical Waste investigative series, resulting in a law signed by the President. The pharmacists believe the HHS Secretary received their message about help for prescription drugs.

“Transparency is key. We have been saying that all along,” Randal Johnson, president and CEO of the Louisiana Independent Pharmacies Association, said. “Let’s not be able to call a dog a cat. Let’s not use a term that you can change the definition on with a whim. We need transparency to take out these price concessions and we need to get down to where a patient is able to afford to maintain their health by going to their pharmacy and getting the lowest cost drug.

At Tuesday night’s the State of the Union Address, President Trump also had a message for drug companies.

“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs,” he said.

The FOX 8 Medical Waste investigative series found drugs priced far more in the U.S. compared to other countries. Our investigation found a diabetes drug that cost $106 in the United States and $2 in Canada. We also found an antibiotic for $143 in the U.S. and $33 in Canada.

“Will there be a time where you can buy a drug in America and Canada or somewhere else and they will be relatively the same price?” Zurik asked Secretary Azar.

“Well, that’s our goal is to end this foreign free-riding,” Azar said. “The President [Tuesday night] gave a call to action to Congress — end foreign free-riding off of American research and development.
The American patient should not have to pay the cost of development for the rest of the world.
Alex Azar, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary

Last year, Congress passed a bill which President Trump signed that prevented Pharmacist gag clauses. The bill was sponsored by Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy after he watched the Medical Waste stories with Hammond pharmacist, Ricky Mannino.

The Trump Administration said the steps highlighted to the pharmacists Thursday in New Orleans are the next steps to lower the cost of healthcare for consumers, whose lives may be in danger because of drug companies pricing them out of the market.

2 Responses

  1. Most Heroin Opiate Overdoses are happing because of bad Heroin mixed with Fentenal are coming from War Lords that are being protected by our Military and now from Afghanastan Poppy Plants are thier main source of Money now that War has ripped them apart . So the Feds are switching the blame to us so I have taken this opportunity to share my heartbreaking story in hopes these witch hunting Opiate ill informed skeptics will read and understand that I would have no life without Medically prescribed Opiates by a physicians care and strictly monitored monthly urine and blood test. Please remember that An Opinion Before A Thorough Investigation Is The Epitome Of Ignorance! And that a little more compassion from the Medical Field and its representatives could have saved my beautiful Stepdaughters life. Let me say this! A person who has a addictive personality will abuse anything that helps them feel better. I have taken Oxycontin for 18 years , I have had 27 major surgery’s in 19 years. I have so much physical pain I can not even get out of bed with out pain meds and when I run out I run out and just lay in bed praying the Lord relieve me of this horrible condition and I pray God you pain med skeptics never go through what I go through everyday of my life when the only thing you have to do is threaten what help I get, Shame on you! There will always be drug abuse and as the so called war on drugs has failed all this will! All you do is stoke and aid the drug pushers business to knew heights in the Black Market of Heroin coming from War torn Afghanastan while depriving folks as me to this horrible movement!

    My Stepdaughter committed suicide 6 years ago because of being treated like a drug addict by her some of her family and some friends and some doctors when all along she suffered from Lupus and Fibro which I believe was brought on by a deadly car crash at 18 , she told me between that which I was being put through and what they were putting her through she was not going to live her life in such a hell brought on by people like you that are on a witch hunt to out law Opiates and pain meds that give us some sort of a life . As a retired Police officer and worked indirectly close to the DEA and the A.T.F., You people do not have a clue how thrilled you are making the illegal opiate trade from Afghanastan a CASH COW for War Lords! And think of my Late Stepdaughter as you continue on with this 2018 Version of the ( 1940s Propaganda Film named REEFER MADNESS )movement to outlaw opiates! Just like the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook if there would have just been gun laws , my God they were Gun Laws , the guns that murdered all those 20 children were all registered and owned by a school teacher! You fight Drug Addiction in Elementary education by teaching all children the dangers of Booze and Tobacco which if these witch hunters want for us to know the real truth but they do not. I miss my Stepdaughter so much and some of us will continue on the fight to protect our right to feel better and function without fear of these witch hunters trying to convince us to commit suicide . And they are trying to do exactly THAT!
    The under line real truth is THESE witch hunters would rather us Chronic Pain sufferers commit suicide are and DRINK all the BOOZE we can drink! The Federals legalized it ( ALCOHOL) knowing its a more deadly drug than Strychnine. And just because the DEA has miserably failed with their witch hunt type movement on drugs why do they deprive us sick people of our Constitutional Rights to be Happy in that pursuit of with Professional Physicians to take meds that give us relief of this horrible malady of Chronic Pain ! May God have mercy on their miserable souls they that seek to destroy us Chronic Pain Sufferers only and little hope of temporary relief of this horrible sickness. Below a picture of me and my Deceased Beautiful Stepdaughter one year before her Suicide! Such a horrible tragedy !

  2. We should not be required to buy thru a pbm. They monopolize the industry. I paid Express scripts $15 for my script and got the same script for $1.25 direct from a local pharmacy. I also paid $15 for a script from Express Scripts and they charged my insurance company $1079. I paid $150 out of pocket for the same script. I want to choose who gets my money
    ( independent small businesses)and not be forced into buying from a big Corp. PBMs have become greedy and all about the money

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