Ready to Rumble: How Pelosi’s Drug Bill Sets Up Dems for 2020
Health Care

Ready to Rumble: How Pelosi’s Drug Bill Sets Up Dems for 2020


After making a deal with liberal Democrats Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to have cleared the way for a vote this week on a sweeping bill that would empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

To appease progressives who had complained that the bill wasn’t strong enough, Pelosi agreed to increase the minimum number of drugs whose prices would be negotiated by the federal government to 50, up from 25 in the original bill. The bill also now includes a provision that would eventually limit drugmakers’ ability to raise prices above the rate of inflation in employer-sponsored health plans.

The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that the bill’s price negotiation provisions would reduce government spending by about $456 billion over 10 years. (The analysis was based on the previous version of the bill, which called for Medicare to negotiate the prices of at least 35 drugs.) Overall, though, due to other provisions that would increase government spending significantly – including plans to provide dental, vision and hearing coverage in Medicare – the bill would be close to a wash in terms of the budget, with a roughly $5 billion reduction in the federal deficit over a decade.

A vote on the bill, titled the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, is expected Thursday.

Why it matters: The bill is not expected to pass the Senate, and the White House has indicated that it would veto it, should it make its way to President Trump’s desk. But Democrats may have other reasons to push for a vote in the House.

“The aggressive legislation gives Democrats a chance to tout their productivity on a central campaign issue that is fully detached from Washington’s debate over 'Medicare for All’ and the broader chaos surrounding Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump that, so far, has dominated early 2020 campaigning,” says STAT’s Lev Facher. “Already, drug pricing groups and Democratic campaign arms are rushing to tout the Pelosi legislation — especially on behalf of candidates who made a point of campaigning on health care in 2018.”