Senate Democrats are pushing forward with a deal aimed at lowering prescription drug prices.
The Senate released the legislative text of the deal Wednesday, signaling some progress for Democrats as they try to finalize a scaled-back version of the sweeping Build Back Better domestic policy package that collapsed late last year. Democrats reportedly asked the Senate parliamentarian to begin reviewing the draft legislation to ensure it qualifies for the fast-track budget reconciliation process they want to use to pass it and avoid a Republican filibuster.
The plan would allow Medicare, the government health program for seniors, to negotiate prices for 10 of the most expensive drugs starting in 2026, with the number of drugs rising to 20 by 2029. Among its other provisions, it would also penalize companies that hike prices faster than inflation, place a $2,000 annual cap on out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries and expand assistance to help seniors afford medications.
The plan would reduce the federal budget deficit by $297 billion over 10 years, according to a November report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office cited by Reuters.
The deal was reportedly negotiated by Democratic leaders and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and has the backing of all 50 Democratic senators. “Senator Manchin has long advocated for proposals that would lower prescription drug costs for seniors, and his support for this proposal has never been in question,” Sam Runyon, a Manchin spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “He’s glad that all 50 Democrats agree.”
Negotiators are reportedly still working on their climate change and tax provisions, which would be packaged with the drug-pricing reforms.
Drug industry pans the plan: The pharmaceutical industry is pushing back against the drug-pricing legislation.
“The prescription drug bill released today went from bad to worse for patients,” Debra DeShong, a spokeswoman for PhRMA, an industry lobbying group, said in a statement. “Democrats weakened protections for patient costs included in previous versions, while doubling down on sweeping government price-setting policies that will threaten patient access and future innovations. In fact, they are proposing to repeal a policy that would have directly lowered costs at the pharmacy for millions of seniors in favor of a new price-setting scheme. The bill also ignores the role of middlemen and insurers in determining patient out-of-pocket costs. Unfortunately, PBMs and insurers will continue to benefit by shifting more of the cost burden to patients when it comes to coinsurance and premium increases. Patients deserve better.”
Why it matters: Democrats are pressing ahead with their plans in the face of a threat from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who last week warned that Republicans would walk away from bipartisan legislation to increase U.S. competitiveness with China if Democrats pursue their partisan budget reconciliation agenda. Wednesday’s release of the draft legislation “was the most substantial progress in months toward reviving parts of Mr. Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar plan,” the Times reports.