Sen. Sanders renews push on drug pricing bill

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Kamala Harris calls for new investigation into Kavanaugh allegations MORE (I-Vt.) introduced legislation yesterday that seeks to reinstate a provision known as the reasonable pricing clause, which would provide the government price negotiating-authority for drugs that are developed with federal funding.

The measure was filed as an amendment to another prescription drug bill, according to Sanders spokesman Mike Briggs.
With the provision’s history of acquiring significant cross-party support and the populist character of the legislation, the Sanders measure provides Democrats’ their best chance of sending a prescription drug price-control measure to the White House, paving the way for what could be President Bush’s third veto.

Sanders said that the lack of the provision has helped create the situation where Americans are paying the highest drug prices in the world, “while Americans pay for research, [the pharmaceutical drug industry] receives a discount.” He went on to blast the drug industry lobby, calling it “the most powerful lobbying force in the capital” and attributing the repeal of the clause in 1995 to its efforts.

But while the GOP is linked with the pharmaceutical industry, it was a Democrat in the White House who was responsible for the policy change.

In an effort to use federal funding to overcome barriers to drug development, the reasonable pricing clause was adopted in 1989 and was required for drugs that were collaboratively developed with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under exclusive licensing agreements. The Clinton administration ultimately repealed the provision after the NIH-convened two panels found that the clause undermined the speed with which pharmaceutical drugs were developed.

Sanders initiated several attempts for the provision’s return as a member of the House, including an effort in 2000 when he introduced renewal legislation as an amendment to the health appropriations bill. In spite of the Republican controlled Congress, the measure passed the House -- garnering 118 Republican votes, over half of the House GOP delegation --yet was stripped from the final bill during conference committee, according to the senator.

A notable “no” vote came from former congressman Billy Tauzin (R-La.), head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a supporter of the provision, plans on supporting new legislation on the issue. Setmayer added that the congressman believes that the federal government has a vested interest in setting the price of drugs developed with federal funds and that “a lot of GOP members” would likely support the legislation due to the exorbitant costs of healthcare.

Bush has publicly stated that he would veto legislation that seeks to extend the same price-negotiating authority for drugs distributed under the Medicare Part D program. With help from the White House, Republicans leaders in the Senate torpedoed that bill in a cloture vote three weeks ago. Most believe Bush will likewise oppose the Sanders measure

The White House’s statement of administration policy on the Part-D bill echoes the criticism of the reasonable pricing clause, that such a price control would impede competition and undermine drug development efforts.

However, the Sanders bill – unlike the Part D legislation – has a reasonable chance to attract 60 votes. In addition to the five Republican senators who broke rank with the party to vote for cloture on the Part D bill, two GOP senators, Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneProspects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Trump, lawmakers consider app that would conduct background checks: report 'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat MORE (R-S.D.) voted in favor of the Sanders measure in 2000 as members of the House. Both offices did not respond to calls for comment.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president for PhRMA, issued a statement denouncing the Sanders measure, offering a hint into future lobbying efforts against the bill: “Clearly, policies such as the reasonable pricing clause disincentivize collaborative research that helps patients live longer, healthier lives.”

Sanders dismissed the argument, however, contending that a large amount of drugs have been developed with federal funds, adding, “Don’t believe it.”