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Critics say Medicare rule could cut access to life-saving drugs, violate Obamacare

“We believe the use of this measurement system to devalue people will inevitably lead to the use of price controls and other barriers to access that will ration health care,” said the letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, from more than two dozen patient and provider groups.

Grassley’s committee is holding a hearing about the new rule next Tuesday.

Ted Okon, executive director of Community Oncology Alliance, told CNBC that “people should not only be concerned, they should be alarmed” about the proposed rule.

“The government is proposing, basically, an experiment on seniors’ health care,” said Okon said, whose group signed the letter.

But unlike any clinical experiments, he argued, senior citizens involved would not be asked whether they want to participate, educated about the risks or be assured that “their care is going to be closely monitored during the experiment.”

The warning by Okon and others comes as federal health officials are issuing an advisory of their own about the high cost of prescription drugs, and the strain that puts on the Medicare program.

“High-cost drugs are a major driver of Medicare spending growth,” said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, during a press conference about Medicare’s financial outlook on Wednesday.

“For the second year in a row, we saw spending growth for prescription drugs dramatically outpace cost growth for other Medicare services,” Slavitt said.

He mentioned the proposal to study alternative payment models for Medicare Part B drugs during the press conference.

Medicare is the federal government’s health coverage program that primarily covers people ages 65 and older. Part B is the section of Medicare that covers treatment from physicians, including drug treatment administered in doctors’ offices.

Those drug treatments, which can include cancer medications, antibiotics, or eye-care treatments, cost Medicare about $20 billion annually.

“Of course, costs are a concern,” said Jonathan Wilcox, co-founder and policy director of the advocacy group Patients Rising.

“But patients and their medicines are the last place we should be cutting,” said Wilcox, whose group also signed the letter.

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