by Earl Buford, President/CEO at WRAPT/BIG STEP Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership
Heath care costs are among the most vexing challenges families across Wisconsin and in Milwaukee, where access to adequate health care is often a struggle for working families and the working poor. Rising health care costs are among the most troubling challenges facing many Milwaukee residents.
We know that uninsured and underinsured Milwaukee residents struggle to afford the medicines they need, particularly for acute or chronic health problems. The discussion of prescription drugs costs often focuses on the financial burden our elderly population carries, which they do, but research also shows that high prescription drug costs are a problem for people of all ages.
Some consumers simply stop filling necessary prescriptions due to their cost; other consumers try to stretch out prescribed medications, which cannot only make them less effective but can also be quite dangerous with certain health conditions.
How can we make healthcare more affordable for everyone? I suggest a look at prescription drug costs and means that we can encourage to keep the quality high and the costs as reasonable as possible.
Prescription drugs, which cost over $300 billion in 2009 and are expected to exceed $450 billion by 2019, are one of the chief sources of high health care costs.
Leaders in Washington have engaged in a fierce debate about how to control health care costs, but there is one thing they can do today that will not cost a dime: Approve the Express Scripts-Medco Merger.
The Express Scripts-Medco merger will combine the expertise of two Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) that already create enormous savings in our health care system, including bringing savings to Medicare. Experts predict companies like the new Express Scripts-Medco will save taxpayers $469 billion from 2006-2015.
These savings translate directly into more jobs. Each 1% reduction in prescription drug costs covers the cost of creating 20,000 new jobs. We all know that Wisconsin and Milwaukee can benefit greatly from more jobs and revenue.
Pharmacy Benefit Managers, such as Express Scripts and Medco, have a very real impact on the cost of health care. A study by economists Jonathan Orszag and Kevin Green earlier this month showed that these two companies save employers, the federal government, labor unions and consumers between $51 billion and $87 billion annually. How do they do this? By driving down the cost of prescription medications by negotiating favorable drug prices from manufacturers and retail pharmacies.
The merger of these two companies also will increase the efficiency of prescription management, improve patient adherence to medication, detect and close gaps in care and help personalize pharmacy care for patients with chronic or more conditions.
This is a direct savings that can benefit people here in Wisconsin as more than 1.9 million Wisconsin residents currently are served by these two companies, including Milwaukee residents who receive benefits as employees of the Milwaukee Public Schools, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Network Health Plan of Wisconsin and WCA Group Health Trust. This merger can have a significant, positive impact on their prescription plans and on the industry as a whole well into the future.
Of course, savings mean nothing if it results in poorer quality of care. The new Express-Scripts-Medco promises to enhance health in our country by combining their years of experience managing benefits and assisting prescription drug users.
Studies show that prescription drug users are more likely to take their prescriptions and less likely to suffer harmful interactions among prescriptions if they receive their drugs via home-delivery.
Bringing Express Scripts and Medco together will amplify savings for patients, improve quality of care and help curb health care costs that are hurting the economy and costing America jobs. I encourage the Milwaukee community to join me in supporting this proposed merger.