COLUMBUS: The Ohio job market is recovering slowly but is still in a tough position. While state unemployment has recovered from the worst of the recession — and now stands at 7.2 percent — there are still thousands of individuals trapped outside of the work force desperately trying to land a paycheck.
One way to support job growth would be for Ohio’s representatives in Congress to protect Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D.
Despite the recession, the pharmaceutical industry continues to invest in new projects and create new employment opportunities here in Ohio. In fact, one of the world’s biggest drug companies, Abbott Laboratories, just announced a $270 million expansion in Dayton. Since 1999, the biopharmaceutical sector has worked with local medical schools, science centers and hospitals to conduct some 5,000 clinical trials for new medicines. Those trials spin off jobs and create livelihoods for thousands of Ohio residents.
Indeed, the pharmaceutical sector directly employs over 15,000 Ohioans and indirectly supports another 84,000 jobs in fields related to drug research, like construction and administrative support. The industry plays an important role in our state’s job market.
Tampering with Medicare’s role in prescription drug coverage could have a dramatic impact on local firms — many of them small businesses
Until 2006, Medicare didn’t have a prescription drug benefit. But today, the Medicare drug benefit — known as Part D — ensures that nearly 2 million Ohio seniors have access to the vital medicines they need.
The Part D benefit is unlike most government health-care programs, because it doesn’t simply strap enrollees with a single, one-size-fits-all coverage plan. Instead, seniors are presented with a broad variety of private plans, and then they choose the one that best fits their health-care needs.
The government isn’t directly providing seniors with prescription drug services — it’s overseeing the market and subsidizing plans. But private insurers have to compete with one another for the enrollees’ business. This has resulted in lower-than-expected prices for seniors and taxpayers alike and approval for the drug program consistently polls higher than 90 percent.
Right now, however, there’s a move afoot on Capitol Hill to radically change Part D by stripping out some of its market mechanisms by instituting a new fee on pharmaceutical firms. This effort couldn’t be any more misguided.
Several independent analysts have concluded that a new fee on pharmaceutical firms would raise drug prices on most seniors. Indeed, research by the former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, found that Part D premiums could increase by as much as 40 percent if this congressional effort succeeds.
The Medicare drug benefit is working. It’s under budget and delivering important drugs to millions of seniors. Any changes to the program could make investors think twice before putting their capital in the pharmaceutical industry.
Our representatives should focus on protecting this program — not undermining it.
Andrew E. Doehrel is the president and chief executive of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.