Drug companies fear Democratic Congress
Drug companies are gearing up for a fight if Democrats take over the House.
Democratic lawmakers say Republicans have gone too easy on the industry and are vowing that will change if they take power in November’s midterm elections.
They are promising investigations into rising drug prices and say they will push to allow importation of cheaper medicines from other countries and to allow Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies.
Drug companies also suffered a rare policy defeat last week in the opioid bill when Democrats objected to a provision that would let them recoup $4 billion in costs from the federal government. For the industry, it was a worrying sign of things to come.
“Industry as a whole feels like they are on their heels. It will only get worse as the political climate changes,” one lobbyist said.
The source noted that the drug industry will lose a key “backstop” of friendly committee chairs “who have been buffers for the worst of the worst policies going into effect” if Republicans become the minority party in the House.
Democrats are giving the drug industry reason to be concerned.
“I think right out of the gate, we make a down payment on what we’re going to do about the costs of prescription drugs, and I would hope within the first 100 hours we would be able to put some constraints on big pharma,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), a top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he wants executives from the largest pharmaceutical companies to testify about why their prices are so high.
“They have nothing to fear if they come to us honestly,” Cummings told The Hill. “I hope to have them come, the major manufacturers of these drugs and the ones who are jacking up the prices in an unreasonable way, and tell us under oath how this is happening.”
Drug prices have spiked over the last decade, putting a pinch on consumers who have not seen wages keep pace with the hikes. It’s a bipartisan concern, but the parties are divided on how best to solve the issue.
Democrats want Medicare to negotiate prices and want to allow Americans to buy cheaper prescription drugs from abroad, policies that are staunchly opposed by pharmaceutical companies. But those proposals could see new momentum if Democrats seize a majority in either chamber.
“I hope we act early to allow people to buy drugs from Canada and force Medicare to negotiate drug prices,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Health Committee, told The Hill.
If Democrats only retake the House, the odds are lower they will be successful in pushing through those policies.
The House passed a Medicare price negotiation bill in 2007, when Democrats had regained the majority. But it failed in the Senate, with some Democrats and most Republicans in opposition. The bill was also opposed by then-President George W. Bush.
President Trump has talked tough on drug prices and supported both importation and Medicare negotiation on the campaign trail. But Democrats say he hasn’t followed through since he’s been in office.
“The president keeps saying he wants to address the high cost of prescription drugs, but he doesn’t do anything, and the Republican majorities don’t do anything,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) told The Hill. Pallone would likely be chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee if Democrats win back the House.
As Trump campaigns for reelection ahead of 2020, some lawmakers expressed hope he would be more willing to cross the aisle and work with Democrats on what has become a top issue for voters.
A vote on a bill allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies would “show that we are determined to get a handle on these high health-care costs, and a big driver of that is the cost of prescription drugs,” Schakowsky said.
Polls show the majority of the public wants Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices and the ability to purchase prescription drugs from Canada.
But industry sources were skeptical that Democrats and Trump will want to work together.
“If the Democrats take control in the House, the last thing they want to do is work with Trump on anything, and the last thing he wants to do is work with them. It’s the perfect foil for reelection in 2020,” one lobbyist said.
Even if Democrats can’t push through Medicare price negotiation or importation, there are other ways they can make drug companies hurt. For now, drug companies are bracing for the worst.
The industry lobbyist pointed to a 2017 bill by Schakowsky and former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, which covers imports and price negotiations.
“That was every single anti-pharma bill ever rolled into one,” the source said.
“That’s the template they can be expected to use.”
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