Lawmakers consider easing costs on drug companies as part of opioids deal

Lawmakers consider easing costs on drug companies as part of opioids deal

Lawmakers are considering adding a provision easing costs on drug companies to an opioid package currently being negotiated.

The powerful pharmaceutical industry has been pushing for months to roll back a provision from February’s budget deal that shifted more costs onto drug companies, and they sense they have a chance to attach the change to the bipartisan opioid package currently moving through Congress.

Democratic aides said Republicans are pushing to add the change at the behest of drug companies. Senate Democrats have not taken a clear position. Henry Connelly, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate McConnell predicts no shutdown: Trump 'flexible' on border deal Ocasio-Cortez had highest percentage of small donors in midterms: report MORE (Calif.) said Thursday evening, though, that Pelosi opposes the move.

"The way Republicans are writing this, Big Pharma will get two or three times more money than the opioids crisis,” Connelly said. “Leader Pelosi opposes this Republican attempt to hijack a bipartisan effort on opioids funding to ram through a multi-billion dollar handout to Big Pharma."

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One Democratic staffer involved in the negotiations, however, said members of the party have concerns.

"The proposal is being pushed by Republicans. We have a lot of concerns about adding a PhRMA bailout that will force seniors to pay more for their health care onto a bill that’s intended to help people fight the opioid epidemic,” the staffer said.

Drug pricing advocates are up in arms at the possibility of a change favorable to pharmaceutical companies making it into a package aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic.

“ALERT: Big Pharma trying to use the opioids bill as a vehicle to give themselves $4 billion windfall -- many of the same companies that contributed to the opioids crisis to begin with,” Ben Wakana, executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs, tweeted on Thursday.

At issue is a change from February’s budget deal that shifted billions more costs onto drug companies in Medicare’s coverage gap, known as the donut hole.

Other provisions, including some favored by Democrats, are also in the mix as part of a deal to undo, or at least partially roll back, that change.

For example, a bill aimed at lowering drug prices by increasing competition from cheaper generic drugs, known as the Creates Act, is in the mix to be included in the package as well. Pharmaceutical companies previously opposed that measure, but lobbyists say they expect the industry could go along with that bill if it meant getting relief on the Medicare provision.

Colin Seeberger, a spokesman for the liberal Center for American Progress, urged Democrats to reject the provision on Twitter on Thursday, saying they should “tell PhRMA to f--- off.”

The Senate passed its version of the opioid package on Monday in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, and lawmakers are now working out a final version to pass through the House and Senate.

—Updated at 6:45 p.m.