Divisions emerge over House drug price bills

Divisions emerge over House drug price bills
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Divisions are emerging in the House over what lawmakers hoped would be a bipartisan push to lower drug prices.

Drug pricing is a rare area where members of both parties think there is a chance for a deal this year. But as House Democrats took the first step on Wednesday to begin moving legislation forward, it was clear that even relatively small-scale drug pricing bills may not have a smooth path ahead.

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Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee raised objections to several of the bills at the hearing, accusing Democrats of refusing to negotiate with them on the legislation.

“We do want to lower the cost of prescription drugs, [but] we wish it were more inclusive,” said Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns House panel investigating private equity firms' role in surprise medical billing Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill MORE (Ore.), the top Republican on the committee, about the process.

Democrats pointed out that many of the bills, which are aimed at increasing competition from cheaper generic drugs, already have support from some Republican lawmakers.

The bills are likely to pass the Democratic-controlled House. But getting a significant number of House Republicans on board for a strong vote would raise pressure on the GOP-controlled Senate to act on the issue.

Some Democrats are also hoping that winning support from President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE, who has railed against the high cost of drugs, will help win over more congressional Republicans.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Democrats will 'certainly' beat Trump in 2020 Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE (D-Calif.) said last week that Trump “assured” her that he wants to work together on lowering drug prices.

But without the support of GOP congressional leaders, passing the bill with strong Republican support becomes a much harder task.

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The relatively small-scale measures considered Wednesday, many of which have at least some bipartisan support, are part of a House Democratic strategy to start with “low-hanging fruit” on drug prices before later moving on to bigger items like Medicare negotiating drug prices.

But even the low-hanging fruit is exposing divisions.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneEXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns House panel investigating private equity firms' role in surprise medical billing Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill MORE (D-N.J.) said the measures considered Wednesday would increase competition in the marketplace from cheaper generic drugs. He tried to frame the issue with language that could appeal to GOP lawmakers.

“This is capitalism,” Pallone said. “That’s what we’re about here.”

Asked after the hearing whether there is a path forward for him to support the measures, Walden said “possibly” but noted that he wanted changes.

“I guess the question is the next step and whether the majority’s willing to make some improvements,” Walden told The Hill.

Those concerns were also amplified on Tuesday by Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessTrump officials propose easing privacy rules to improve addiction treatment House approves bill raising minimum wage to per hour The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Burgess told The Hill that Democrats only shared the drug bills with him last week instead of bringing him in for negotiations.

“It could have been much better handled,” he said.

One of the highest-profile measures before the committee on Wednesday was the Creates Act. The bill would crack down on drug companies who game the system to delay competition from generic drugs.

Democrats noted that the bill already has Republican supporters, including Reps. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyBipartisan former EPA chiefs say Trump administration has abandoned agency's mission Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Divisions emerge over House drug price bills MORE (W.Va.), Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers ramp up Silicon Valley antitrust probe | Treasury sanctions North Korean cyber groups | Thiel to host Kobach fundraiser MORE (Ga.) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsGOP struggles with retirement wave Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing Meadows, Cotton introduce bill to prevent district judges from blocking federal policy changes MORE (N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

In the Senate, Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWe've lost sight of the real scandal Grassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel State Dept sent explosive-detection dogs to Jordan despite evidence of mistreatment: report MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Finance Committee, also supports the measure.

“We actually have some diversity of opinion on our side,” Walden acknowledged, before joking, “and you should see it on some other topics.”

House Republicans at the hearing, though, raised concerns that the measures could harm innovation from drug companies or set off “frivolous lawsuits” from generic drug companies.

Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonRepublicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election? Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback MORE (R-Mich.), a former chairman of the committee, warned of the “unintended consequences of hampering innovation in medicine.”

The brand-name drug industry, a powerful force in Washington, has raised similar concerns and has long worked against many of the bills Democrats brought up for consideration Wednesday. 

Democrats pushed back on the criticism.

Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooOvernight Health Care: Public's view of drug companies sinks to record low in poll | NYC declares end to measles outbreak | Health advocates fear Planned Parenthood funding loss could worsen STD crisis Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Planned Parenthood ousts its president | Harris releases drug pricing plan | House Dem drug plan delayed until after recess Democratic chair: Medicare negotiating drug prices not moving before August MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Health Subcommittee, said “the sky is really not caving in” and noted that GOP lawmakers already support some of the bills.

But Republicans were insistent they wanted changes to the bill highlighting the complicated debate over drug prices.

Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchHouse Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment Overnight Health Care: Oversight chair plans to call drug executives to testify on costs | Biden airs anti-'Medicare for All' video | House panel claims Juul deliberately targeted kids Mueller agrees investigation did not 'fail to turn up evidence of conspiracy' MORE (D-Vt.), one of the House’s fiercest critics of drug companies, expressed hope that a deal could be reached.

At a separate hearing on Tuesday, Welch secured commitments from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to work with lawmakers on bills, including the Creates Act.

“It’s kind of exciting to be here because we’re actually on the threshold of doing something,” Welch said.