The White House is expected to include proposals to lower prescription drug prices as part of President Biden’s next big spending plan, focused on caregiving and what the White House calls “human infrastructure.” In anticipation, House Republicans and Democrats are going on the offensive, reintroducing their own drug-pricing plans.
That GOP legislation “contains dozens of provisions with bipartisan support aimed at lowering the price of prescription pharmaceuticals,” The Washington Post’s Paige Winfield Cunningham reported Wednesday. “Most of the provisions are relatively minor, involving things such as expanding transparency or tweaking incentives, but the bill would cap what seniors pay out of pocket for Medicare drugs for the first time ever.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are expected to reintroduce sections of their own legislation to lower drug prices, known as H.R. 3, as early as Thursday, The Hill reports.
The fight ahead: Biden’s plan and the Democratic bill are expected to call for allowing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate prices for drugs in the Medicare program, a key element of the Democratic health care agenda. Republicans don’t want to go that far, objecting to what they call “government price control.” They also argue that a Democratic health reform passed by the House in late 2019 would have hobbled drug companies’ efforts to develop Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.
“That argument seems dubious,” Winfield Cunningham writes, “considering the federal government has paid pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars for developing, manufacturing and distributing six different coronavirus vaccines.” But a Congressional Budget Office analysis did estimate that the 2019 Democratic reforms would have led to lower revenue for drugmakers and lower investment in research and development. As a result, CBO estimated, eight fewer drugs would be brought to market from 2020 through 2029 and about 30 fewer drugs would be released over the following decade.
The bottom line: The drug-pricing debate to come is likely to sound a lot like the one we had in 2019, and the result could be much the same, too. “Expect to hear Republicans talk about their bill a lot, but it won't go anywhere,” Winfield Cunningham writes, adding that it’s far from clear that Democrats will be able to pass some portions of their legislation. “Even if they use budget reconciliation, requiring just 50 votes in the Senate, they're operating on extremely narrow margins. And while allowing direct negotiations with HHS is likely to pass muster within budget reconciliation rules, other parts of the bill, including the international pricing index, might not.”