House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s proposal to give Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug prices is one step away from a House vote, but the partisan divide over the legislation is as wide as ever.
The House Ways and Means Committee advanced during a markup hearing on Tuesday for H.R.3, the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019. The legislation will now be combined with bills sent out of two other House committees last week and then sent to the House floor for a vote.
But the hearing on Tuesday belied major partisan clashes over the legislation that would require the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to pick at least 25 brand name drugs a year to negotiate for a lower price that is 120 times that paid by several other countries.
The legislation passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Education and Labor Committee and Ways and Means has several changes to the original proposal from Pelosi.
For instance, the new legislation would boost the number of drugs that HHS must choose for negotiation from 25 to 35 by 2033.
Another change to the original bill would address high launch prices by drug companies. It would require HHS to negotiate for lower prices for drugs that launch with a median cost that exceeds the median annual income for a family.
The committees also seek to boost generic competition for the selected drugs. IN the original proposal, a drug could no longer be subject to HHS negotiations if it gets at least one generic competitor, but the committees’ bills increase that number to two.
The Ways and Means markup had lawmakers retreating to familiar arguments over the drug prices bill.
Republicans charged that the bill would lead to fewer drugs getting approved, citing an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that found the bill could reduce about eight to 15 new drugs from entering the market over the next decade.
But Democrats balked at the argument about innovation losses.
“I heard arguments from the pharma industry that innovation would dry up and go away. I don’t buy it,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, R-Oregon. “They don’t have to have these exorbitant profit rates.”
Blumenauer and other Democrats added that pharma companies devote more money at times to marketing than to research and development.
Republicans also blasted the bill’s call to give the federal government the power to negotiate rates.
“You are putting so much weight in the hands of the government dictating the price,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-New York.
The House Rules Committee will likely combine the bills passed out of the three committees into one package and then likely advance that bill to the House floor. The House could vote on it as soon as next week.
While chances of passage in the Democratic-controlled House seem optimistic, the bill faces a hard road in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled his opposition.
However, President Trump, who has called for Medicare negotiation before, said in a tweet that “it’s great to see” Pelosi’s bill when it was released last month.
In addition to the drug prices bill, the committee also advanced several other bills that add dental, vision and hearing coverage for Medicare. The savings from the drug prices bill, which the CBO said would generate $340 billion over seven years, would pay for the new benefits.