Key House lawmakers reach bipartisan deal to advance long-stalled drug pricing bill

Key House lawmakers have come to a bipartisan agreement to move forward long-stalled legislation aimed at lowering drug prices.

The agreement between House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE and Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 Republicans offer details on environmental proposals after Democrats roll out plan MORE (Ore.), the panel’s top Republican, will allow the bills, aimed at increasing competition from cheaper generic drugs, to advance from the committee on a bipartisan vote expected later on Wednesday.

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Aides in both parties said Democrats verbally agreed to make changes to one of the most prominent measures, known as the Creates Act, which cracks down on tactics drug companies use to delay the introduction of cheaper generic drugs.

That bill was stalled for much of last year amid lobbying in opposition from the powerful pharmaceutical industry. But opposition from the industry has lessened recently amid intensifying scrutiny of high drug prices, and some drug company CEOs even said they supported the bill during a high-profile hearing before the Senate Finance Committee in February.

None of the drug pricing bills moving through the panel on Wednesday are as major as signature Democratic priorities like allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which Republicans still largely oppose.

But there is now a bipartisan boost for some smaller bills to lower drug prices, an area where both parties think they can work together this year.

“I do want to thank the Committee leadership for working with us on a number of the drug pricing bills that we will take up today,” Walden said on Wednesday. “We needed to ensure these bills didn't unintentionally stifle competition and drive up drug prices by accident.”

In all, six drug pricing bills are expected to advance with bipartisan votes out of the committee on Wednesday, including another bill to crack down on brand-name drug companies paying generic companies to delay the introduction of their competing drugs, which also will have changes made to it to win GOP support.

The measures likely could have passed the House anyway, given Democratic control of the chamber, but the support from Walden and other key Republicans makes it more likely there will be pressure on the Senate to act as well, especially given that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP can beat Democrats after impeachment — but it needs to do this one thing Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report Senate begins preparations for Trump trial MORE (R-Iowa) also supports the Creates Act and the “pay for delay” legislation.

The changes to the Creates Act will help address the Republican concern that the bill would lead to “frivolous litigation” against drug companies, a GOP committee aide said.

“We will be offering a bipartisan amendment in the nature of a substitute that goes a long way to addressing that concern,” the GOP aide said. “While it isn’t everything we would like to have seen changed, it is enough for Republicans to vote for this bill to advance out of the committee.”