Angry about high drug prices? Powerful N.J. Democrat is leading effort to lower them.
WASHINGTON — Upset about high drug prices? Congress may finally do something.
House Democratic leaders on Thursday announced they would move ahead with legislation allowing federal government would be allowed to negotiate lower prices for insulin and dozens of other drugs.
The bill will be sponsored by New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care issues.
“The problem right now is that drug companies basically charge whatever they want,” said Pallone, D-6th Dist.
House Democrats won a majority last fall after campaigning on the issue of health care and prescription drugs. In New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., drug prices to win re-election over Bob Hugin, a former Celgene Corp. executive. It was the No. 1 topic on the minds of New Jersey voters, according to a pre-election Monmouth University poll.
“The issue of prescription drugs is the one subject that make grown men cry,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who led a Capitol Hill press conference with Pallone and other House Democratic leaders. “That was self-evident in the election of 2018.”
Under the legislation, the secretary of health and human services would negotiate prices for expensive drugs that have no competition, such as from generics, that otherwise could keep costs down.
Manufacturers that refused to negotiate would face tough penalties of up to 95 percent of their drugs’ revenues. They also would be required to lower the prices of drugs whose prices have climbed above the rate of inflation since 2016.
And the out of pocket costs for prescription drugs for Medicare patients would be capped at $2,000 a year.
Pelosi said she was hopeful that President Donald Trump, who has promised to lower drug prices and has called out companies who raise prices, would support some form of the legislation.
There also is bipartisan legislation on drug prices moving through the Senate.
And U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., joined U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other Democrats in January on a bill allowing imports of lower-cost drugs with proper safety precautions, making prescription drug prices comparable to those in other major countries, and having the government negotiate for lower prices under Medicare.
Pelosi said that since taxpayer money helped fund the research that led to new pharmaceuticals, Americans should be able to get those drugs at a reasonable cost.
House Republicans, who voted to ban the government from negotiating for lower prices when they added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare in 2003, criticized the bill.
“The Democrats want the government to have complete control over our health care — particularly Americans’ access to medicine,” said House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. “The result will be less choice, which means less hope for Americans who are sick.”
And Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, complained that his party had not seen a bill that will be the subject of hearings next week.
“This has shifted over to a partisan political issue and not a solution for pharmaceutical costs gone wild,” Walden said.
And the president and chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Stephen Ubl, said the proposal "would end the current market-based system that has made the United States the global leader in developing innovative, lifesaving treatments and cures.
“We do not need to blow up the current system to make medicines more affordable,” Ubl said.
The proposal found a more welcome from health insurers.
“We commend the House leadership for a bold reform proposal recognizing the problem is the price of drugs – set and controlled exclusively by manufacturers – and that drugmakers must be held accountable to lower prices for consumers and patients," said Matt Eyles, president and chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans.
Pallone said he would seek to work with Republicans on the legislation.
“We have to convince them that this is a way to do it,” he said. “I do think that we can get Republican support.”