Drug Price Bill to Be ‘Practical,’ Phased in, Senator Says (1)

  • Key Democrat doubles down on drug-price negotiation plan
  • The White House has yet to weigh in, lawmakers say

(Updates throughout with additional reporting.)

The Senate Democrat leading the charge on reining in drug prices says he is crafting a plan to empower the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies that offers “flexibility.”

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he “will not give up” on his drug pricing plan—meant to offset some of Democrats’ social spending and tax package—despite pushback from industry and moderates in his own party.

“We’re going to insist on it,” he said Thursday. “We understand that the American people expect the Congress, and Democrats specifically, to deliver.”

Democrats want to empower the government to negotiate the prices of expensive medicines with pharmaceutical companies. They also want to limit the amount that drug prices can increase from year to year. Although the contents of Democrats’ sweeping domestic policy package are in flux, Wyden’s comments signal the drug proposal remains a priority.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Bloomberg
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.

Democratic leaders said Thursday that a deal on a sweeping domestic spending package that includes a major drug pricing provision could be near. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters “we’re almost to the stretch” on a deal.

Opposition Remains

It’s not clear the flexibility Wyden envisions will be enough to win the support of moderates in his party who have voiced concerns about drug price restrictions. The position of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a key vote on Democrats’ quest to pass their package under a procedure that bypasses the need for Republican votes, isn’t well known. Wyden declined to say if she’s endorsed his proposal.

Some Democrats have opposed using the pharmaceutical industry to pay for other priorities and worry that lowering prices will stymie drugmakers’ ability to invest in new medicines.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who has opposed some proposals to empower the government to negotiate for better prices, said Thursday that Wyden has kept him in the dark about many of the details of his proposal. Menendez said until Wyden shows him the full proposal, he can’t sign off on it.

“When they decide to show it to me I’ll judge it,” Menendez said.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who joined two other House Democrats to block the House’s drug pricing legislation from advancing through one committee earlier this year, said Wednesday he suspects the Biden administration hasn’t yet figured out what kind of drug pricing proposal can unite Democrats.

“My perception is they don’t have a firm position yet,” Peters said. “They’re still seeking information about what can get passed.”

The White House has floated to lawmakers a proposal to extend for a few years beefed-up premium subsidies for Affordable Care Act plans and to offer temporary coverage to low-income people in states that have refused to expand their Medicaid programs, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) said. Democrats originally wanted to do both permanently, but shrinking them to as little as two or three years would cut down their cost, he said.

The White House has also backed expanding Medicare’s benefits to include vision, hearing and dental, said Gomez, who met with President Joe Biden this week to discuss the spending package.

The White House, Gomez said, hasn’t outlined its favored drug pricing proposal. “That’s still up the air, but I know they’re committed to getting it done,” he said.

Saving Innovation

Wyden countered the claims of pharmaceutical companies and some lawmakers that price restrictions will discourage innovation, saying his proposal will offer “flexibility” for new products.

“We’re going to do it in a practical way,” he said. “I understand how important it is to have innovations and biotech developments.”

Some of the bill’s provisions will be phased in to help drugmakers adjust, he said.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com

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