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Hearing Focuses on Proposed Antitrust Exemption for Pharmacies
On October 18, the House Judiciary Committee's Antitrust Task Force held a hearing on legislation, H.R. 971, which proposes an antitrust exemption to permit independent pharmacies engage in collective bargaining when negotiating with health insurance plans, including sponsors of Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, and pharmacy benefit managers.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), the bill's chief sponsor, said this legislation is needed to help community pharmacies compete against larger chain drug stores. He recommended that the bill would endorse a level playing field and increase competition, while preserving access to community pharmacists for senior citizens. The hearing also incorporated testimony from representatives of several organizations that support this legislation – the National Community Pharmacists Association, the Mississippi Independent Pharmacists Association, and the Association of Community Pharmacies Congressional Network.
David Wales, testifying on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), expressed opposition to the Weiner bill, cautioning that it would allow price-fixing and boycotts and that this conduct would raise costs in two ways: through higher fees paid to pharmacies and by undermining the cost containment strategies of purchasers. Wales stated concern that these higher costs "would fall on consumers, employers – both public and private – who purchase pharmaceuticals and other products on behalf of their employees, and government assistance programs." He also testified that the proposed antitrust exemption would dull competitive pressures that drive pharmacies to improve quality and efficiency in order to compete more effectively.