The New York Times provides an excellent report today on the impact of Medicare Part D and the unintended – maybe(?) – result of moving millions of lower income patients from Medicaid to Medicare. The article points out that drug company profits will increase significantly because the patients are moved from Medicaid, which has certain price restrictions, to Part D, which lacks those same restrictions. In the article, A Windfall from Shifts to Medicare, the author sums up:
The windfall, which by some estimates could be $2 billion or more this year, is a result of the transfer of millions of low-income people into the new Medicare Part D drug program that went into effect in January. Under that program, as it turns out, the prices paid by insurers, and eventually the taxpayer, for the medications given to those transferred are likely to be higher than what was paid under the federal-state Medicaid programs for the poor.
About 6.5 million low-income elderly people or younger disabled poor people were automatically transferred into the Part D program for drug coverage. . . .
Drugs tend to be cheaper under the Medicaid programs because the states are the buyers and by law they receive the lowest available prices for drugs.
But in creating the federal Part D program, Congress – in what critics saw as a sop to the drug industry – barred the government from having a negotiating role. Instead, prices are worked out between drug makers and the dozens of large and small Part D drug plans run by commercial insurers.
The article provides a thorough summary of a complex problem. Beyond the problem, though, is a question. Is this an economic distortion flowing from the structure of the industry, of the type discussed in an earlier post on such distortions? Or was the original cheaper structure the distortion?