LEWISBURG — The spiraling cost of prescription drugs and attempts by Congress to control those costs was the topic of a Wednesday afternoon fact-finding roundtable discussion at Evangelical Community Hospital run by visiting U.S. Congressman Fred Keller, along with Hospital CEO Kendra Aucker and several department chairmen.

Earlier in the day, Keller, Aucker, and other hospital administrators toured the new hospital wing — the Prime Project — currently under construction.

"The one thing that I want to make sure everyone understands is that the legislation before the House is bipartisan," he explained at the start of the roundtable, is that. "the high cost of drugs is not a one-party issue. We are trying to get beyond those talking points."  

Keller believes that transparency, choice, and competition will be beneficial to lowering prices.

To that end, Keller brought news of several bills dealing with prescription drug pricing that have been introduced in Congress this session.

One thing being looked at is access to generic drugs, Keller said. "Some pharmaceuticals are having delay tactics in making generics available to patients," he said. "HR 2455 deals with that."

There is also a drug pricing act, which requires drug manufacturers to report and justify certain price hikes. "This is HR 2296, and it has passed through the energy and commerce committee and we are looking to move it forward. We are working on this issue of prescription drugs. I know the president has talked about some Canadian products being made available in the U.S. We are looking at all the avenues."

The doctors around the table, included James Patterson, family medicine, John Pfeifer, cardiologist. They all had stories about outrageous price hikes and the huge fees charged by manufacturers of some new drugs.

Insulin, heart drugs, certain cholesterol drug costs can vary from one pharmacy to another.

"In cardiology," Pfeifer said, "we have good therapeutics for a lot of different cardiac diseases. But then there is the issue of affordability. A $4 medicine at Wal-Mart is not the problem. What I foresee is an increasing problem with some of the newer therapeutics. The pace of new therapies is going to accelerate. We see medicines like Repatha, which is excellent at lowering cholesterol. Data says it can save lives. But when it went on the market it was priced at $16,000 a year. That price has now decreased to about $7,000."

A bigger problem, he said, "will be in the rare disease markets, the genetic therapies are being priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions."

This is a societal problem," Pfeifer said. "Medications that may not be as used. How do we handle those? We have to figure out a pricing mechanism, if 10,000 people need therapy, the patients should have access and the drug companies will still make money.."

Some of the transparency issues will help in that arena, Keller suggested. He also noted that President Trump had talked about shopping for the best prices across country lines.

"So there is a lot to consider," Keller said. "Talking today with all of you, your concerns is something I'll bring back to Washington."

Earlier in the day, Keller, Aucker, and hospital officials toured the new hospital wing currently under construction — The PRIME Project, where PRIME stands for Patient Room Improvement, Modernization, and Enhancement project.

Keller noted that this was the first tour he's had of the construction, although he was at the ground-breaking.

The hospital extension is all about patient comfort in private rooms (88 of them, all with windows).

The hospital expansion is 120,000 sq. feet, four stories, and 58 ft. tall.

Keller, along with a group of about 10 administrators, media, and construction workers, climbed the four levels, while plans for what each level would contain were explained.

The last time a major project was undertaken by Evangelical, Keller was told, was in the 1950s.

"This is the largest project ever undertaken by Evangelical," said William Anderson, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

"When completed," Anderson said. "this will provide a completely different patient experience."