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July 16, 2021
What? Bipartisan Agreement on Health Reform? –– Newsletter Issue #135

It’s refreshing to be able to write about positive, bipartisan developments in health policy. In a new paper, Galen Senior Fellow Brian Blase explains that Biden Seeks To Build On Many Of Trump’s Health Care Policies via a new executive order issued on Friday.
 
Brian was, of course, President Trump’s senior health policy adviser in the White House from 2017-2019 and launched a number of successful policy initiatives that came to fruition through administrative rules to foster choice and competition in the health sector. 
 
President Biden’s executive order is designed to promote competition throughout the American economy. Most of the health-related proposals “either build on policies implemented by the Trump administration or are consistent with Trump administration direction,” Brian writes. 
 
He advises Republicans to support the reforms, especially proposals to allow people to purchase hearing aids over the counter, boost government price transparency efforts, and confront both hospital consolidation and occupational licensing burdens.
 
These are positive developments that show growing bipartisan support for transparency, choice, and competition in the health sector.  
 
“Many government laws, regulations, guidance, requirements and policies, at both the federal and state level, have reduced incentives for price- and non-price competition, increased barriers to entry, promoted and allowed excessive consolidation, and resulted in healthcare markets that lack the benefits of vigorous competition,” Brian quotes from a Trump administration health policy report.
 
“Consistent with its general deregulatory approach, the Trump administration looked to rescind government rules that reduced competition.”  Now the Biden administration is taking up the mantle. It’s ironic, since “…the ACA, which President Biden seeks to build upon, is largely to blame for consolidation in the health insurance industry—especially in the individual health insurance market,” Brian writes.
 
An executive order simply starts the process of policy changes;  it’s basically a directive to federal agencies to begin the complex and time-consuming rule-making process to fulfill the order.
 
But Brian says there is much more to be done through a combination of other regulatory measures and legislation: 
 
“The Biden administration should look to build on other Trump administration efforts that promoted health care competition, such as site-neutral payments in Medicare and short-term health insurance plans. 
 
“Further, Congress can take a step to combat growing hospital consolidation by repealing the ACA’s moratorium on physician-owned hospitals. On prescription drugs, policymakers should deal with facts, particularly that over the past several years drug price inflation has been nearly flat and is significantly below overall inflation—rather that building a false narrative to sell a policy agenda,” he writes.
 
Brian takes issue with the drug pricing narrative being developed by the Biden administration and some members of Congress who wish to  empower the federal bureaucracy to set prices for pharmaceuticals in the United States:
 
“Counter to the narrative in the executive order, the prices of prescription drugs have remained flat over the past five years. The figure below contrasts the 12-month percentage change in the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index (cpi) with its prescription drug cpi. 
 
“Between June 2020 and June 2021, prescription drug prices declined by 2.5% while general prices soared 5.4%. The executive order avoids mentioning that Americans have access to far more new drugs than people in other countries, where the government regulates the prices of pharmaceuticals.” 
 
 
So President Biden’s executive order is a mixed bag, all in all, but it provides platforms for progress on key issues and opportunities to educate people about the facts on others.
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