HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Pelosi Pushes Drug Pricing in Budget Bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday she is pushing to attach legislation to tackle drug prices to the major budget bill carrying most of President Joe Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda in the coming months.

She slammed drug companies for the level of stock buybacks and dividends in recent years and argued that cuts to drug prices will not harm research and development spending given new findings on buybacks.

The House Democratic bill would permit Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and then force drug companies to lower the price they charge private insurers or impose huge fines on the companies. Pelosi said she wants it to be part of a special budget bill that can pass the Senate without Republican support since it is immune from the filibuster.

“We have an extraordinary opportunity to do this as we craft this reconciliation bill,” she said in a conference call with reporters. She added she is working with her own caucus and top Senate Democrats to come up with a version of the House bill that can get unified Democratic support.

To boost efforts to address prescription pricing in the Biden budget bill, the staff of the House Oversight and Reform Committee yesterday released a detailed report on drugmakers’ buybacks and research and development spending. “How can they say with a straight face that lower drug prices for Americans will come at the expense of research and development?” said Pelosi.

  • The committee’s report found that from 2016 to 2020, the 14 top pharmaceutical companies spent $577 billion on stock buybacks and dividends. That’s around $56 billion more than the amount spent on research and development, the report said. It estimates the savings from the drug price bill would equal less than half companies are expected to spend on buybacks and dividends over the next decade.
  • “Even if the pharmaceutical industry collected less revenue due to pricing reforms such as H.R. 3,” the report says, referring to Democrats’ signature drug pricing plan, “companies could maintain or even exceed their current R&D expenditures if they reduced spending on buybacks and dividends.”
  • Pharmaceutical companies have deployed legions of lobbyists to thwart H.R. 3, arguing it would hinder the creation of new drugs and allow unneeded suffering and death. “Industry documents show how pharmaceutical companies exploit the U.S in part because the law won’t allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices,” said House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

It is not yet clear if the budget reconciliation bill will include drug price changes, which were not initially part of Biden’s American Families Plan or American Jobs Plan proposals offered to Congress in the spring. The first step in the broader economic legislation is a budget resolution now being worked on by Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Read more from Erik Wasson.

Biden Calls for Efforts to Lower Drug Prices in Exec Order: Biden will ask his administration to work with states to create a plan to import medicines from Canada, according to the Washington Post, citing people in the administration and others familiar with the executive order, Charles Capel reports. The order will look to increase competition among hospitals and health insurers, in an attempt to make care more affordable. One part of the order will ask the Department of Health and Human Services to create a plan within 45 days to tackle high prescription drug prices.

The president’s action will prompt the federal government to set new regulations on everything from airline luggage fees to non-compete clauses. He will sign the order after delivering remarks on the American economy, according to a public schedule released by the White House. Read more from Justin Sink.

Also Happening on the Hill

House Appropriations Markups: House appropriators will resume marking up the fiscal 2022 Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill on Monday. The Labor-HHS subcommittee plans to release its bill on Sunday. The full House Appropriations Committee will mark up the Labor-HHS bills on Thursday.

Grijalva Calls for Child Migrant Housing Probe: Rep. Raúl Grijalva called for an independent investigation into a child migrant housing facility in Fort Bliss, Texas, after a federal whistleblower complaint detailed a lack of medical care, clothing, showers, and experienced caregivers. Grijalva also re-upped his call for such facilities to be permanently closed. “The Biden Administration must pursue community-based alternatives to detention that put the welfare of children first,” he said.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Pfizer Outlines Booster Plans While Regulators Signal Caution: Pfizer plans to request U.S. emergency authorization in August for a third booster dose of its vaccine, based on early data showing that it can sharply increase immune protection against the coronavirus. The company has received initial data from early human studies showing that a third dose is safe and can raise antibody levels tenfold, a Pfizer official said.

At the same time, however, federal health officials last night signaled that they would take a cautious approach to potential booster shots, and underlined that the currently available vaccines are effective at keeping people from being sickened by the coronavirus. Robert Langreth and Josh Wingrove have more.

Virus’s Genetic Flashpoints Identified in Giant Study: Throughout the pandemic, one crucial question has perplexed scientists worldwide: Why do some people become so sick from Covid-19 while others show no symptoms at all? Now, a peek deep into the human genome by a global initiative with more than 3,000 researchers from 25 countries is providing some answers. Read more from Kristen V. Brown.

Buttigieg Says No Firm Date to Lift Travel Ban: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the Biden administration is not yet ready to ease restrictions on international travel to the U.S., even as it touts progress against Covid-19 in other areas including domestic travel. “Unfortunately, it can’t be based on an arbitrary date. It has to be based on conditions,” he told Bloomberg, noting the U.S. has working groups with the U.K., Europe, Canada, and Mexico. Keith Laing has more.

Trump-Approved Coronavirus Killer Blocked: The Environmental Protection Agency is ordering a halt to sales of Allied BioScience’s SurfaceWise2 product, less than a year after authorizing the disinfectant’s use to combat coronavirus in some American Airlines planes and airport facilities, Jennifer A. Dlouhy reports. The EPA said in a news release it ordered Allied BioScience to immediately stop selling and distributing the product amid “scientific concerns regarding product performance.”

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What Else to Know Today

Biogen Curbs Scope of Alzheimer’s Drug: Biogen has updated the label for its new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, limiting its use to those with mild cognitive impairment or early dementia stage of the disease after doctors expressed confusion over who should get it. The change comes after the FDA broadly approved Aduhelm for Alzheimer’s patients, not just for the early-stage sufferers that Biogen focused on in clinical studies. Read more from Fiona Rutherford.

HHS Beats Hospitals’ Suit Over Medicare Pay Formula: A group of more than 30 safety-net hospitals lost its challenge to an HHS rule setting out the formula for calculating certain Medicare pay adjustments, as the HHS didn’t act arbitrarily in adopting the measure, a federal trial court said. The department properly acknowledged and explained its reasons for changing the policy, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

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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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