HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Drug Bill Shows Limits of Democrats’ Power

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House Democrats this week are set to pass the furthest-reaching drug pricing legislation in decades. It will represent a fraction of what many of them wanted.

The climate change, inflation, and health-care measure that the Senate passed on a party-line vote on Sunday was the result of nearly a year of compromises and negotiations, lawmakers say. The drug-pricing portions faced opposing camps of Democrats: one that wanted it to cover as many people and medicines as possible, and another that wanted to limit its scope to protect the pharmaceutical industry.

Some popular provisions of the package were also trimmed by the Senate’s budget process, which wouldn’t allow key aspects of the bill to reach private health insurance coverage. The legislation slated to reach President Joe Biden’s desk is focused largely on what seniors pay for medicines—what many supporters say is only a first step to tackle high prices.

“This is years and years overdue, and still there are many millions of Americans left out of this legislation, and we absolutely need to do more,” said Christopher Morten, a professor at Columbia Law School who worked with drug pricing advocates.

But the legislation might be the last major drug-pricing action by Congress in the near future. Democrats face a difficult midterm election and the prospect of losing their majority in at least one chamber of Congress, making it unlikely they can pass follow-up legislation in the next two years.

And not all Democrats want to do more. “What we’ve is got a good balance that allows the private sector to continue to generate those cures and get relief for seniors,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who represents a district in San Diego where US biotech and pharmaceutical corporations are among the largest employers. San Diego is home to offices of Pfizer, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Roche AG’s Genentech, among other major companies. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Pharma Lobby Readies Legal Firepower: Provisions to lower prescription drug prices will inevitably end up being challenged by pharmaceutical companies, even as they have yet to become law, attorneys say. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has already come out in strong opposition to the drug negotiation provision. President and CEO Stephen Ubl said in a statement that it “will lead to fewer new cures and treatments for patients battling cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.”

“Nobody should be surprised that there will be litigation” resulting from this, Rachel Sachs, a law professor at the Washington University in St. Louis who studies drug pricing, said. “The pharmaceutical industry has sued to challenge very mundane state laws about transparency. Absolutely, this is the type of thing they’re going to sue to challenge.” Shira Stein has more.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at

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