A Service of UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

ACHI’s Dr. Joe Thompson on COVID, drug prescription negotiations

Dr. Joe Thompson (left), president of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, sits down with Roby Brock, host of Capitol View, to discuss issues related to healthcare. Thompson said COVID-19 cases are increasing in the state.
KARK Channel 4's Capitol View
Dr. Joe Thompson, president of Arkansa Center for Health Improvement, said the state is seeing an increase in hospitalizations related to COVID-19.

Dr. Joe Thompson with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) expects federal Medicare drug negotiations to expand in coming years as a more capitalistic and competitive approach to healthcare emerges.

This past week, the Biden administration announced 10 drugs that will be negotiated for price discounts in Medicare, a first for the program.

“This is a very significant change for the federal Medicare program. Medicare is what we care for elderly in our nation. Since 1965 when Medicare was first put in place, it did not cover prescription drugs. The Part D program that went in place after the turn of the century did cover prescription drugs, but it did not allow the federal government to negotiate price on prescription drugs. So this is the first time Medicare, our federal insurance program for the elderly, has been able to negotiate price with pharmaceutical companies for now 10 drugs that are some of the most expensive drugs for people to pay,” Thompson said.

“I think the intent is for there to put capitalism, competition into the drug pricing of pharmaceutical companies in their negotiations with the federal government. There are lawsuits by a majority of the pharmaceutical companies against the federal government to prohibit this from happening. So we’ve got a legal process, but we’ve had a negotiation process for the first time going forward,” he added.

Arkansas and other states are seeing a resurgence in COVID cases from variants of COVID-19. Thompson said the virus and tracking it are complicated.

“We are not tracking COVID-19 infections like we were during the pandemic. I think anecdotally, if you talk to people, more and more people are getting infected now. Hard numbers, our hospitalizations are going up. We have 160 hospitalizations in a recent week. That’s 20 hospitalizations a day. This is a virus that is going to stay in our environment. It’s a virus that is rapidly changing. We have new variants. It’s a virus for whom we are developing vaccines that do work, but our protection as a community is falling off. So we need to remain vigilant for individuals that have an immune problem, have cancer, have a family member that is at risk. You need to recognize that COVID is still present and that we’re having an uptick in infections,” Thompson said.

The ACHI CEO said vaccines coming out this fall are likely to be effective against new variants as pharmaceutical research and development has adapted to the changing virus.

“The challenge with this tricky little virus, tricky new virus is that it continues to mutate. It continues to change its appearance so that our immune systems don’t recognize it as easily and therefore it has a new opportunity to infect us. The vaccines that are coming out this fall are very good against, I think the XBB, as reported. They were developed to be specific for the virus that was present this summer. And we have some new variants that we don’t know how effective the vaccine’s going to be. But the pharmaceutical companies, the vaccine manufacturers continue to evolve their vaccine as this virus continues to mutate and represent a new threat,” he said.

Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics.