Cardinal Health SVP of government relations outlines top 3 policy issues for pharmacists

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Cardinal Health SVP of government relations outlines top 3 policy issues for pharmacists

By David Salazar - 08/07/2017

As Cardinal Health RBC 2017 attendees listened at the tradeshow’s Opening Session on Thursday, July 27, the U.S. Senate was taking up the question of healthcare reform — something that Cardinal Health SVP of government relations, Sean Callinicos, highlighted as among the top three legislative issues that will most affect community pharmacists in the coming year. The other top issues for pharmacy that he addressed were increased drug prices and the opioid crisis.

When it comes to drug prices, Callinicos noted there have been attempts this year to bring costs down by introducing efforts that would allow for importation of pharmaceuticals from Canada and other countries. None of them passed. And while he said there could be more to come, he noted, “those almost certainly will be defeated.” Callinicos also said there could be an administration effort to lower prices through an executive order, noting that the efforts are taking place at a time when companies are under increased scrutiny from lawmakers.

“The backdrop for this is a huge fight between the pharmaceutical companies in Washington and the PBMs focused around pricing transparency,” he said. “It doesn't look like that'll be resolved anytime soon.”

In the meantime, Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, has undertaken Drug Competition Action Plan, an effort to lower prices by increasing generics competition. The FDA currently is accepting public comment on possible future guidance to generics manufacturers on best practices for submitting applications. Callinicos said the Drug Competition Action Plan likely would also see a focus on approving biosimilar drugs — which could reduce the cost of biologics.

As for the opioid crisis, Callinicos said that much of the focus — particularly from Sen. Rob Portman, who represents Cardinal Health’s home state of Ohio — has been on providing funding for treatment. He also said that curbing prescription drug abuse and misuse was one of the few bipartisan issues being considered by Congress, but that the states have largely taken the lead in this effort.

“A lot of the activity has been, and will remain, at the state level because states obviously license and oversee doctors and pharmacists,” Callinicos said. “It may be that federal legislation tries to build on some of those state activities — like PDMPs limiting the number of pills that can be prescribed and requiring prescribers to have training. I think that is possible later this year.”

And if addressing the opioid epidemic is the main bipartisan issue, healthcare reform is the top partisan issue currently being considered, according to Callinicos, who said that partisanship has been a roadblock in passing legislation.

“They came in January with a very robust agenda — tax reform, health care, Supreme Court nominations,” he said. “I think the polarization that you see in your own lives and on TV has bled over into Congress, and very little has gotten accomplished this year as a result.”

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Senate’s “skinny repeal” of Obamacare that was introduced and debated in Washington, D.C., as Callinicos spoke in San Antonio, was later defeated when three Republican senators broke ranks and voted to defeat it around 1:30 a.m. Despite the defeat of that particular attempt, Callinicos said that reform will be necessary in the coming years.

“A lot of counties in Cardinal Health's home state of Ohio will have no insurance carriers in the exchanges next year,” Callinicos said. “We could also see some bipartisan fixes and maybe some administrative fixes. But the need for reform is real.”

Photos courtesy of Alabastro Photography

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