Democrats Scramble for a Compromise on Drug Pricing Reform
Health Care

Democrats Scramble for a Compromise on Drug Pricing Reform

Bryan Woolston

As they work to finalize the details of their Build Back Better plan, Democrats reportedly say they are close to a compromise deal that would restore to the package measures to lower prescription drug prices.

The latest plan would allow the government to negotiate prices on a reduced number of drugs.

“The proposal has coalesced around allowing Medicare, with nearly 50 million participants in its drug program, to negotiate the price of some drugs no longer covered by exclusivity periods granted by the Food and Drug Administration, which protect drug makers from generic competition,” The Washington Post reports. “Medicare would be able to negotiate with drugmakers five years after regulators approve certain small-molecule drugs — which account for most drugs sold in the United States — and 12 years for the more complicated medications known as biologics, which target conditions like cancer, said four people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail the current talks.”

The tentative deal comes after the White House sparked criticism from progressives and patient advocates by excluding drug pricing provisions from the Build Back Better framework it released last week. “The moment is now,” a group of 15 vulnerable House Democrats led by Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) wrote in a Sunday letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “We must deliver on our promise to lower the amount of money our constituents pay for prescription drugs. We must demonstrate that we work for the American people and not the pharmaceutical industry.”

Administration officials said that decision to leave out drug pricing reforms from the framework was necessary because the proposals under discussion did not have the votes needed to pass. But Pelosi and numerous other Democrats in both the House and Senate continued to press for the issue to be addressed in the final package and negotiators worked in recent days to finalize narrower reforms and convince lawmakers who had objected to earlier proposals, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), to back those scaled back plans.

What’s next: Democrats hope that a compromise on drug pricing reforms can still be included in the package before the House votes on it, potentially this week. (Congress is scheduled to be on recess next week.) But Sinema and other holdouts, including Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), reportedly have yet to commit to supporting the latest plan, and key details remain subject to negotiation.

The bottom line: This may be Democrats’ best chance to finally enact some version of a long-sought policy goal — and an opportunity for Democrats to generate some additional revenue that could help pay for the rest of their economic agenda. But the final version is likely to fall far short of the sweeping reforms passed by House Democrats (and ignored in the Senate) in 2019. “Though the drug industry's goal is preventing any government price negotiation whatsoever, limiting the bargaining to a narrow subset of drugs and leaning more heavily on measures like out-of-pocket caps that don’t impact the companies’ bottom line would be a victory in itself,” the Post notes.