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Positioning on Drug Pricing Continues

January 9, 2020

Sen. Grassley Calls on Pelosi to Support His Bill

Conservative Group Backs GOP Drug Pricing Alternative

As we head into 2020 election season, Democrats and Republicans alike will be working to convince voters that they have the right “prescription” to lower drug costs. At present, several different approaches are circling.

With the passage of H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Prices Now Act, House Democrats have backed a plan that relies on heavy-handed government price control mechanisms, such as mandated Medicare negotiations and an international price index. In the Senate, Finance Committee Chair, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) are pushing a recently revised plan, S. 2543, the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction and Health and Human Services Improvements Act that rejects the House Democrats’ most extreme price controls, but does include an inflation rebate that would force drug makers to rebate Medicare if they raise prices above inflation. The White House is backing the bill.

In a new twist, Senator Grassley told CNBC in a Tuesday interview that he wants to persuade Pelosi to support his bill, which he argues is the only one that can pass the Republican-controlled Senate. House Democrats, however, don’t believe his bill goes far enough and members of his own party have balked at government capping drug prices at the rate of inflation.

Meanwhile, a group of Senate Republicans have introduced a competing plan, the Lower Costs, More Cures Act , which they say finds common ground by advancing a collection of proposals that all have bipartisan support and would not impede new cures. The alternative is very similar to one offered by House Republicans during consideration of H.R. 3. It is also similar to the Senate Finance Committee bill, but does not include the controversial inflation rebate provision. Republican Senators, Richard Burr (R-NC), Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) dropped the bill with several colleagues on December 19 and released a statement noting that “this legislation brings together vetted ideas that both parties support to create a better solution for patients and taxpayers…”.

On Tuesday, the conservative-leaning  American Action Network launched a media campaign to push for the Republican alternative drug pricing measure. STAT reported on the launch and observed that the “introduction of the Senate package was a clear sign that Republicans would be willing to pass Grassley’s signature drug pricing bill if he was willing to scrap the price hike policy. Grassley has so far refused to do that, even as pressure increases from his own party and conservative activists”. To date, Democrats have also shown little appetite for more limited proposals that could potentially garner support from both sides of the aisle.