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Rebecca Farley

Director, Policy & Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health

National Groups Launch Partnership to Fight Proposed Medicare Drug Restrictions

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A broad-based alliance of patient groups and health care stakeholders yesterday announced the formation of the Partnership for Part D Access, a coalition committed to protecting access to necessary medications for patients in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. The Partnership for Part D Access opposes a proposed rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that would weaken the successful “protected classes” policy in Medicare Part D by restricting access to antidepressants, antipsychotics and immunosuppressants for vulnerable patients.

“Restricting timely access to medicine jeopardizes patient health, puts patients at greater risk for poor clinical outcomes, and increases costs for patients and taxpayers. The Partnership for Part D Access is dedicated to mobilizing the health care community and educating policymakers about the danger of the CMS proposed rule to limit access to essential medications,” said Chuck Ingoglia, Executive Director of the Partnership for Part D Access and Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Practice Improvement at  the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

The launch of the Partnership for Part D Access coincides with a hearing held yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health to explore the proposed CMS rule and its potentially negative impact on individuals served by Medicare Part D. At the hearing, CMS Principal Deputy Administrator Jonathan Blum faced intense, bipartisan questioning on the protected classes proposal. Blum said the agency “deeply respects stated concerns, particularly regarding protected classes” and will carefully weigh comments prior to issuing a final rule. He maintained this positioning throughout lengthy Q&A, specifically emphasizing physician and patient perspectives, in the context of “welcom[ing] feedback to ensure we get the policy right.”

Since its inception in 2008, Medicare Part D has been effective at both improving health outcomes and lowering costs for patients. Despite the success of the program, CMS published the proposed rule that would change the agency’s current policy requiring Medicare Part D plans to include on the formularies “all or substantially all” of six protected classes of medication. The proposed changes would restrict access to antidepressants and immunosuppressants in 2015, and antipsychotics in future years, by removing these drugs from the list of protected classes.

The Partnership for Part D Access launched, a new website that will serve as a clearinghouse of information regarding Part D as well as an action center for healthcare advocates and those concerned about protecting access to care in the Medicare program. Concerned patients and their families who visit the Partnership website will be able to register their concern over the proposed changes to the Part D program with CMS. Formal comments to CMS regarding the proposed rule are due on March 7.