Democrats Shift Drug Pricing Expectations to Win Over Moderates

  • Pelosi says original Medicare price negotiation plan won’t fly
  • Moderates in talks with White House about alternatives

Democratic leaders say they’re eyeing a less aggressive drug pricing proposal in their broad tax and social spending package, which may offer some relief to drugmakers concerned about the original plan.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told California’s KQED Wednesday she doesn’t expect her own signature drug pricing legislation (H.R. 3) to be included in a sweeping domestic spending package being developed by lawmakers.

Her proposal would subject hundreds of medicines to government negotiations and impose a heavy tax on drugmakers who refuse to reduce their prices overseas.

“We’ll get something of that, but it won’t be the complete package that many of us having been fighting for a long time,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi’s comments show how members of her own party have successfully pushed to water down the drug pricing agenda.

Much remains unknown about what kind of drug pricing legislation Democrats can rally behind, or how much it would generate to offset the cost of other provisions in the package that would move via budget reconciliation, which could be passed by the Senate without any Republican support.

Three moderate Democrats were able to block a drug pricing proposal from advancing through the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month when it considered its slice of the budget reconciliation measure (H.R. 5376), although the proposal was approved by the Ways and Means Committee.

Drug Pricing Bill in Jeopardy as Moderates Vote Against It

Peters Pitches Alternatives

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the ‘no’ votes, said Thursday he’s in talks with Senate Democrats and the White House about how to craft a drug pricing proposal.

Peters has suggested only subjecting drugs to negotiations in Medicare Part B—those administered in a doctor’s office or other medical facility—and removing the tax on companies that won’t lower prices.

Peters said he fears H.R. 3 would harm the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to invest in new medicines.

“I’m not willing to pay the price of losing American science,” he said to reporters.

Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Protect Our Care)
A mobile billboard sponsored by Protect Our Care seen Sept. 17 in the district of Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), calling on him to support the Medicare negotiation provision.

Supporters of empowering the government to negotiate with drugmakers say Democrats shouldn’t back down.

“Democrats have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver here,” Margarida Jorge, campaign director for Lower Drug Prices Now, said Thursday in a statement. “Caving to Big Pharma, and a handful of those in Congress doing their bidding, is a huge mistake—and one we hope Congress will not make.”

Senate Picture Unclear

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has long said he wants to offer his own drug pricing proposal as part of the Democrats massive tax and social spending package. He has yet to introduce it formally, but those briefed on the plan say Wyden would subject fewer medicines to government negotiation and tie prices to what the Veterans Affairs Department pays.

A senior Democratic aide said House and Senate leaders are trying to find common ground.

One major unknown, the aide said, is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) who hasn’t publicly outlined her opinion on how to tackle the issue of drug pricing.

Pelosi acknowledged Wednesday that there’s “resistance on the other side of the Capitol” to addressing the issue.

“We won’t give up on that because it’s billions, hundreds of billions of dollars savings for the taxpayers, and lower costs for consumers,” she said.

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

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