For most Americans, healthcare ranks among the top public policy issues. Its cost, accessibility, and quality have a direct and tangible impact on a person’s well-being.
Improving these factors in healthcare for residents of Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District continues to be a priority for me. As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, I have worked on lowering prescription drug prices, addressing the opioid crisis, increasing telehealth opportunities, prioritizing mental health, and more.
In addition to the work I am doing on the Committee, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) recently appointed me to a task force charged with developing a healthcare agenda for a future House Republican majority. Our agenda will focus on reducing barriers to better health and wellness, increasing choice in healthcare, expanding the range of available providers, encouraging investment in new cures and therapies, and lowering costs.
Some of my priorities for this task force will be those I have championed throughout my time in the House.
The costs of prescription drugs remain a great concern for those who depend on them. I believe more transparency and accountability in the drug pricing system can help. This requires greater clarity regarding the role of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) in drug pricing.
PBMs manage prescription drug benefits for insurers and government health programs, negotiating rebates and discounts, but how they do this work is often inscrutable. One of their most egregious methods is the use of direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees. DIR fees allow insurance companies to claw back money from pharmacies after the sale. In other words, your pharmacist fills your prescription for $100 based on the understanding that she would get reimbursed by the insurance company at the $100 rate. Six months to two years later, the insurance company says, “Sorry, we are only going to pay you $80.” This is true even if the pharmacy originally bought your medication for $90. It is an unfair practice that places a great burden on community pharmacists in particular.
This is why I have co-led HR 2608 and HR 3554, the Ensuring Seniors Access to Local Pharmacies Act and the Pharmacy DIR Reform to Reduce Senior Drug Costs Act. Both of these bills would contribute to lowering prescription drug costs and increasing options. When these are successful, we can apply this policy to all prescriptions.
Shining light on these practices and preventing abuses is important to the effort to keep down drug prices. This legislation is just one of the ways I am fighting to do so.
Additionally, I care deeply about addressing the ongoing opioid crisis. I introduced HR 1899, the Ensuring Compliance Against Drug Diversion Act. HR 1899 passed the House in April and is currently pending a Senate vote. This bill provides legal authority for certain regulations over the modification, transfer, and termination of a registration to manufacture, distribute, or dispense controlled substances, including opioids.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published data showing there were 93,000 drug overdose deaths just last year. This is clearly an ongoing problem and I will continue to work with my colleagues to combat this tragic epidemic.
Also, improving access to telehealth is a top priority. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the typical restrictions on telemedicine services were lifted as part of the emergency response. This experience helped prove the technology’s value but also indicated where reforms are needed. I co-sponsored HR 1332, the Telehealth Modernization Act, to modify the requirements for covering these services under Medicare. We need to look at enhanced privacy protections and strengthened rules against potential kickbacks, among other areas.
Telemedicine can greatly improve healthcare in rural areas. In rural areas like ours, we are underserved by health professionals. Particularly noticeable during COVID was our lack of mental health resources.
Accordingly, the last two Congresses, I have co-led HR 1667, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. This bill establishes grants and requires other actions to improve mental and behavioral health and prevent exhaustion among our nation’s health care providers. I am also a co-sponsor of HR 432, Mental Health Access Improvement Act, to provide coverage of marriage and family therapist services and mental health counseling services.
As I advocate on behalf of Ninth District residents while the health care task force crafts its agenda, I invite you to provide feedback.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.
Morgan Griffith represents the Ninth District of Virginia in the House of Representatives.