House Democrats pass drug price cap bill, escalating health care wars

House Democrats pass drug price cap bill, escalating health care wars
Copyright 2019 CNN

House Democrats can now say they’ve taken action to lower drug costs.

The chamber on Thursday passed a drug price bill backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi by a 230 to 192 vote.

That’s as far as the legislation is likely to go, since both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Trump administration have said they do not support the effort. But it allows House Democrats to say on the campaign trail next year that they fulfilled one of their main promises from the 2018 election.

Pelosi had a tough time locking down support from members of the progressive faction, who complained the bill wasn’t aggressive enough. She reached a last-minute deal earlier this week with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including two changes that the group had been advocating for.

The bill, titled the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act in memory of the Maryland congressman who passed away earlier this year, would empower the Health & Human Services secretary to negotiate annually for the best prices on at least 50 costly brand-name drugs and up to 250 medications, including insulin. Prices would be capped at 1.2 times their cost in certain other developed countries.

And it would require drug companies to pay a rebate to the federal government if their prices increase faster than inflation. The plan would impact drug prices for all Americans, not just Medicare enrollees.

“The historic Lower Drug Costs Now Act will empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices for the first time in the history of the program and makes those prices available to all Americans with insurance,” said Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., Democrat of New Jersey.

The legislation also caps seniors’ out-of-pocket costs on prescription medications at $2,000 per year.

The negotiation provisions would lower spending by about $456 billion over a decade, but the bill calls for plowing about $358 billion into providing dental, vision and hearing coverage for Medicare enrollees, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday.

A more controversial finding is that the bill would lead to eight fewer drugs being introduced over the next decade and about 30 fewer medications over the subsequent decade.

Republicans, who are pushing their own legislation — the Lower Costs, More Cures Act — argued on the House floor that limiting prices for select drugs would make the private sector less likely to invest in research and development for new treatments and cures.

The pharmaceutical industry also slammed the bill, noting that a single section would cut revenues by $1 trillion.

“This would lead to the loss of anywhere from 30 to 100 or more new medicines over the next 10 years, leaving patients with some of the serious diseases, like Alzheimer’s, ALS and cancer, without hope for the treatments and cures they need,” said Stephen Ubl, CEO of PhRMA, a lobbying group.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is trying to drum up support for a bipartisan bill he crafted with ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon. White House officials praised the legislation last week, but it still faces a tough path forward.

Last week, the senators issued an updated version of their legislation, which would reduce the amount Medicare enrollees have to pay in the initial phase of the drug benefit to 20%, from 25%. And it would limit the amount seniors pay for drugs to $3,100 annually, but also cap the amount they pay out of pocket on drugs in any given month. The legislation would also require drug makers to pay rebates to Medicare if they raise prices on certain drugs by more than inflation, a provision that does not sit well with GOP lawmakers./

CNN’s Haley Byrd and Clare Foran contributed to this report.