Drug Pricing Opponents Complicate Democrats’ Health Ambitions


Democrats’ entire health agenda is in jeopardy after a trio of House Democrats signaled they’re opposed to a bill empowering the government to demand lower prices for medicines while limiting future drug price increases based on inflation.

Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) each signaled Tuesday they won’t support a drug pricing bill being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That bill would reduce government spending on medicine by at least $450 billion and could lower medicine costs broadly for Americans, supporters say.

The drug pricing bill is slated to pay for a significant portion of Democrats’ wide-ranging domestic policy package, which could cost as much as $3.5 trillion.

Peters and Schrader said Tuesday they want their party instead to consider a narrower drug price negotiation proposal they designed. Rice is also a supporter of that bill.

“We need to be serious about how to address this issue by ensuring we champion legislation with broadly supported policies that have the bipartisan, bicameral backing needed to pass Congress,” Schrader said in a statement.

If three Democrats join all Republicans on the committee to oppose a bill, it would cause a tie and withhold the majority needed to approve legislation. Republicans oppose Democrats’ drug pricing bill.

On the House floor, Democrats can only lose three members, if all members are voting, and still pass the bill.

The Peters-Schrader bill would permit the government to negotiate better prices for just Medicare Part B, which pays for drugs administered by doctors and at hospitals, and would cap what seniors pay for medicines each year relative to their income.

Their legislation would establish a $50 per month out-of-pocket cap for Medicare beneficiaries for insulin. It also includes an inflation-based cap on drug price increases under Medicare.

The legislation backed by Democratic party leaders would permit government negotiation for all parts of Medicare, including medicines coming from pharmacies. The proposal would also cap what beneficiaries pay for medicines, but it wouldn’t base that cap on income.

An Energy and Commerce Committee spokesman said the panel is continuing its work. Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)’s policy staff were working Tuesday afternoon to respond to the hurdle in Democrats’ agenda, a person familiar with the matter said.

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has said he’s working on his own Medicare drug pricing negotiation measure but has yet to unveil it.

“We’re working on it and we’re working on it every day,” Wyden told reporters.

With assistance from Billy House

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com

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