HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Centrists Eye Drug Price Bill Alternatives

Moderate House Democrats are crafting alternatives to their party’s signature drug pricing legislation because they’re skeptical a bill to empower the federal government to negotiate with drugmakers can become law.

Two Democrats say they are preparing drug pricing bills aimed at garnering more support than one led by House leaders (H.R. 3) that would peg drug prices in the U.S. to those in foreign countries.

The lawmakers hope they can gather bipartisan support for redesigning Medicare to lower what seniors pay for medicines or penalizing drugmakers for raising their prices, changes that could save Americans money at the pharmacy without having the government dictate the price of medicines.

“We want to come up with a way that we preserve jobs and American science,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) told Bloomberg Government in an interview. “That way we keep getting cures we need and we deliver them to consumers at a price that they can afford out of pocket.”

Advocates fear Democrats could be splintering on the how to tackle drug prices when they hold only slim control of both chambers of Congress.

One advocacy group, Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, launched a seven-figure ad campaign recently aimed at more than 40 Democrats—including Peters—urging them to support H.R. 3, which would empower the government to negotiate with drugmakers to lower the price of certain medicines to about 120% of their costs in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K.

That measure was introduced this year by the heads of the three principle health committees in the House and backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Pelosi and other party leaders have said they want to attach their drug pricing bill to a tax and jobs package Democrats are planning to advance via budget reconciliation, a procedure that bypasses the need for Republican votes in the Senate.

That would require Democrats to remain unified in the Senate, while they could only lose a few members in the House. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Happening on the Hill

HELP Markup: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to mark up six bills including:

  • S. 1491, to improve obstetric care in rural areas;
  • S. 610, to address behavioral health and well-being among health-care professionals;
  • S. 1658, to expand access to breastfeeding accommodations in the workplace; and
  • S. 1675, to improve maternal health.

NIH Head to Pitch Single Vaccine for 10 Diseases: Scientists funded by the $6.5 billion NIH research center that President Joe Biden wants to establish could pursue a single shot to protect against the top 10 infectious diseases and an mRNA vaccine to shield against common cancers. “ARPA-H represents the kind of transformative idea for biomedical research that only comes along once in a long while,” Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, said in prepared testimony ahead of a House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee hearing today. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Brooks-LaSure Moves Closer to Confirmation: Biden’s pick to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, yesterday moved one step closer to confirmation by the full Senate. The Senate voted 52-43 to limit debate on the nomination of Brooks-LaSure to serve as CMS administrator, Shira Stein reports. The Senate will vote at 11:45 a.m. today on whether to confirm Brooks-LaSure.

Republicans Want Update on Medicare Trust Fund: The top Republicans on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas), asked Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to provide a revised Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund insolvency projection “as soon as possible,” according to a statement. “Assessing the true nature of the HI trust fund’s current financial status is time sensitive as Congress is expected to consider additional changes to the Medicare program this year,” the lawmakers said.

What Else to Know Today

U.S. Warns Against Japan Travel: The U.S. said Americans should avoid traveling to Japan, with the country under a state of emergency over a widening Covid-19 outbreak that has sown doubts about Tokyo’s plans to host the Olympics in less than two months. The Department of State raised its travel advisory to level four, putting Japan in a category with a broad swath of nations from Latin America to Europe that Americans are urged to avoid. David Wainer and Michelle Fay Cortez have more.

More Coronavirus Headlines:

Obamacare Benchmark Premium Falls Again: The national average benchmark premium for Affordable Care Act marketplace health coverage has fallen for the third straight year, according to new research from the Urban Institute. Increased insurer competition, state reinsurance policies, and expanded Medicaid coverage appear to be fueling the declines, even as premiums for job-based coverage have risen. Average premiums fell in 43 states, while only one state saw an increase higher than 6%, the report found. Read more from Tony Pugh.

Other Health-Care Headlines:

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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