Democrats and Republicans Unveil Competing Drug Pricing Bills

Lowering drug costs is a major bipartisan voter issue, but tensions between parties have been escalating as Democrats introduced a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices and launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump in October. Republicans countered with a less-aggressive drug pricing bill that imposes an inflation cap on drug price increases, along with other provisions intended to reduce prescription drug prices.

The long-awaited bill introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is known as the “Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019.” It would allow the federal government to negotiate the prices of 250 drugs, require drug companies to pay back price hikes above inflation, and establish an international pricing index. The legislation also would penalize pharmaceutical manufacturers that refuse to cooperate with negotiations. In addition, out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for senior citizens would be capped at $2,000 per year.

On the list of 250 drugs that would be negotiated are Celgene’s multiple myeloma drug Revlimid, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s anticoagulant Eliquis, Merck’s diabetes treatment Januvia, Janssen’s factor Xa inhibitor Xarelto, Gilead’s hepatitis C drug Harvoni, and Pfizer’s neuropathy drug Lyrica.

The proposal was met with unanimous opposition from Congressional Republicans, who described the Democratic health care agenda as socialist.” Following the impeachment inquiry announcement, President Trump, who previously criticized high drug costs, dashed hopes for a bipartisan agreement. Drug companies also voiced their disagreement, claiming that Speaker Pelosi’s plan would destroy “the current market-based system that has made the United States the global leader in developing innovative, lifesaving treatments and cures,” according to Stephen J. Ubl, CEO of lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The Republican bill, introduced by Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, would restructure the Medicare Part D benefit, adjust payment methodologies for some drugs, and – similar to the Democrats’ plan – impose an inflation cap on drug price increases. This plan has been backed by the Trump administration, but Democrats are still publicly calling for a deal.

Sources: The Washington Post, September 19, 2019; STAT, September 19, 2019; NPR, September 19, 2019.