A Dem-controlled House could work with Trump to lower drug prices

A Dem-controlled House could work with Trump to lower drug prices
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U.S. prescription drug prices are exceedingly high and no one knows this better than seniors, who are on fixed incomes and must still choose between food and medicine. 

President Trump has put the blame on Big Pharma, but so far he’s only offered mild salves for the problem. However, this may change if the Democrats succeed in taking back the House this November. The 116th Congress could have an opportunity to work with the Trump administration to break the logjam on this urgent and vexing issue. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated the party would push prescription drug legislation early next year.

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The passing of Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSchumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle Battle looms over funding for Trump's border wall MORE’s (D-Mich.) Know the Lowest Price Act of 2018, which was signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBroward County official Brenda Snipes submits resignation after criticism Retired lieutenant general tears into Trump over attacks against Navy SEAL: 'Disgusting' Senate barrels toward showdown over Trump's court picks MORE on Oct. 10 is an early sign of bipartisan cooperation. The new law lifts a gag clause from pharmacists, which prevented them from disclosing information about lower prices for medications covered by Medicare Part D.

There are a host of other bills in Congress that aim to contain skyrocketing prescription costs that have languished under the Republican majority, but could find new life in a Democratic-controlled House.

Having made a lot of noise about Big Pharma ripping off American consumers, President Trump would be under significant pressure to sign these bills if the new Congress enacts them.

House Senior Task Force Co-Chair Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyPelosi, potential challenger Fudge hold 'candid' discussion Incoming Michigan Dem will not back Pelosi The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Democratic race for Speaker turns nasty MORE (D-Ill.) has just given the issue a booster shot two weeks before the election. Schakowsky and 15 House colleagues sent letters to the CEOs of five big pharmaceutical companies, demanding answers about the soaring cost of crucial prescription drugs. The letters ask what manufacturers have done to bring down prices in the wake of billions of dollars in tax breaks from the Trump/GOP tax scheme and continued public funding of research and development for new drugs.

“Drug companies are making record profits and receiving government benefits left and right while everyday Americans have to decide between paying rent and buying the medicines their family members need to survive,” said Schakowsky. “It is unconscionable that these massive corporations are using their billion-dollar tax savings to benefit wealthy stockholders instead of [making] their drugs more affordable.”

The letters to the CEOs of Amgen, Abbvie, Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer cite an “Americans for Tax Fairness” report indicating that retail prices for a sample of leading U.S. drugs soared by 40-70 percent between 2011 and 2015; that’s 14 times the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, profits for the top ten pharmaceutical companies mushroomed by almost 40 percent during the same period.

“Your company is one of the largest pharmaceutical corporations producing many lifesaving and life-sustaining drugs,” the members of Congress wrote in their letter to the CEO of Merck & Co., which received an estimated one-time tax cut of $13 billion on offshore profits. “But a life-saving drug is 100% ineffective when it is unaffordable.”

While the House members await answers from Big Pharma, there is increasing talk on Capitol Hill of potentially working with the Trump administration on drug pricing if Democrats do win control. Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDem overtures to Trump on drug pricing worry pharma Dems warn party message lacks punch Trump unveils most aggressive action to target drug prices MORE (D-Vt.), told Politico, “If we get legislation through the House… [President Trump] can follow through on things he said in the campaign and as president, and put his signature where his mouth has been on lowering prescription drug prices.”

Welch is a lead sponsor of a bill introduced by Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettOvernight Health Care: How Republicans who voted against ObamaCare repeal fared in midterms | Cummings may call in drug companies | FDA to ban sale of flavored e-cigarettes: report Dems mark Trump tax returns as key part of agenda Overnight Health Care: House Dems plan early vote on pre-existing conditions | ObamaCare repeal off the table for now | Dem overtures to Trump on drug pricing worry pharma MORE (D-Texas), The Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act (endorsed by our nonprofit advocacy group) which would empower Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. According to a July, 2018 article in The Hill, “President Trump previously supported the idea, which is usually associated with Democrats, but did not propose it as part of the drug pricing plan he released in May.”

Rep. Doggett told The Hill, “We're trying to lay the groundwork for the next session.” Democrats, he said, want to be “ready to go with something” on drug prices when the 116th Congress meets.

At this point, it’s truly up to the electorate whether we will see real bi-partisan action on an issue that directly impacts their pocketbooks and loved ones. By electing a majority Democratic House to work with President Trump to ratchet down drug prices, voters will show in the strongest terms that they demand nothing less.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a membership organization that promotes the financial security, health and well being of current and future generations of maturing Americans. He also chairs the board of the National Committee’s Political Action Committee, a PAC that endorses candidates for federal office.