Top Pelosi aide urges insurance industry to fight for drug prices plan, blunt opposition

A top health aide for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implored the insurance industry to form a coalition with healthcare and employer groups to blunt pharma and GOP opposition to the speaker’s ambitious drug prices bill.

Wendell Primus, Pelosi’s senior adviser on health, launched a vociferous defense of the bill released last week that would give Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug prices and punish drug companies that don’t participate. Republican members of the GOP-controlled Senate have been cool to the legislation, imperiling the chances for the bill to get out of Congress.

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But Primus was optimistic at top insurance group America’s Health Insurance Plan’s (AHIP's) National Conference on Medicare in Washington Monday.

“Because the public is for lowering drug prices, eventually we are going to get this bill across the finish line and enacted into law,” he said.

Primus said several House committees are going to be holding hearings on the bill in the coming weeks. He estimates that the bill could reach the House floor by the end of October.

However, the real fight would be in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the plan during a speech on the Senate floor Monday.

“It’s the same old one-size-fits-all government-control philosophy we continue to see from our Democratic colleagues,” he said.

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Primus conceded that the pharmaceutical industry will vehemently fight the bill.

In fact, after he spoke, Jennifer Bryant of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) said on a panel that the bill doesn’t foster negotiation, because if a drug company doesn’t agree to negotiate they could get penalized by up to 95% of the gross sales. Bryant, senior vice president of policy and research for PhRMA, said AHIP should be worried about government overreach.

“I think you should think about what is next and what it means for private insurance," she said.

AHIP gave a measured statement on the plan's release last week, calling it a "bold" proposal.

But Primus called on AHIP to join other groups such as the AARP and doctor groups to form a coalition to pressure politicians to support the legislation.

“Public sentiment is everything,” he said.