(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)
In last Thursday’s Republican presidential primary debate in Florida, Donald Trump made the curious assertion that Medicare does not “bid out” prescription drugs, before moving on to a similar assertion about military procurement. As with all thing related to whatever “Trumpcare” would look like if he were President, this statement requires some effort to decipher.
Medicare’s prescription drugs are very well “bid out.” Indeed, they are “bid out” twice – both directly and indirectly. Doctors and hospitals are not “bid out” at all. Instead, they are subject to Soviet-style price fixing by a central government authority. This is changing quickly, but the alternative payment methods are at a very early and unproven stage. Further, these alternative payment methods are not subject to competitive bidding, but to quality measures dictated by the central government (as I described last week).
Medicare spending on durable medical equipment (for example, walkers or oxygen equipment), prosthetics, and other supplies (for example, diabetic test strips) has been competitively bid since 2011. However, those competitive bids are delivered to the central government. Medicare prescription drugs are doubly bid, because drug-makers do not negotiate prices with the central government. Instead, health insurers compete to provide Medicare Part D drug plans, and the winning insurers negotiate with drug-makers for medicines. Consumers of prescription drugs enjoy two levels of protection from political interference.