HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Wyden Sees a ‘Practical’ Drug Pricing Bill

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The Senate Democrat leading the charge on reining in drug prices says he is crafting a plan to empower the federal 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. “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 medication prices can increase from year to year. Though the contents of Democrats’ sweeping domestic policy package are in flux, Wyden’s comments signal the drug proposal remains a priority.

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

It’s not clear the flexibility Wyden envisions will be enough to gain 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’ efforts to pass their package under a move to bypass the need for GOP support, 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 permit the government to negotiate for lower prices, said yesterday 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,” he said. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden at a CNN town hall last night said getting all dental, vision and hearing provisions he wants in the deal on his economic agenda is “a reach,” Laura Curtis and Josh Wingrove report.

Biden said they might get an $800 voucher on dental from medicare, but there’s no deal yet. Biden said he thinks something on hearing will be in the deal, which Sinema supports, and pointed out hearing is tied to dementia. Biden said vision is harder and there’s no consensus.

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Additionally, the CDC said that eligible people may choose a different booster from the vaccine they originally received, granting more flexibility to patients and doctors as the U.S. tries to stave off another wave of infections.

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Drugmakers Boost Lobbying Spending: The pharmaceutical industry spent heavily on lobbying over the past three months, putting several companies on track for record spending as Democrats look to reduce what patients pay for many of the most-expensive drugs. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s main lobbying body, spent $7.4 million on lobbying from July through September, up from about $6 million in the same span in 2020, filings to Congress show.

PhRMA has spent $22.4 million on lobbying this year, compared with $25.5 million during all of 2020 and $28.8 million in all of 2019. The lobbying rush comes as lawmakers debate how to leverage the power of the federal government to lower what Americans pay for medicines and offset the cost of Biden’s sweeping domestic spending legislation (H.R. 5376). Read more from Alex Ruoff.

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