Progressives push House chairmen to go bolder on drug pricing

Progressives push House chairmen to go bolder on drug pricing
© Greg Nash

Progressive House Democrats pushed two powerful committee chairmen on Tuesday to go bolder on legislation aimed at lowering drug prices.

During a meeting, the Congressional Progressive Caucus urged House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PallonePharma execs say FDA will not lower standards for coronavirus vaccine Dem chairmen urge CMS to prevent nursing homes from seizing stimulus payments Federal watchdog finds cybersecurity vulnerabilities in FCC systems MORE (D-N.J.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTreasury to conduct policy review of tax-exempt status for universities after Trump tweets Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding MORE (D-Mass.) to support a far-reaching drug pricing bill that would allow the government to strip drug companies of their monopolies if they refuse to sell drugs at a reasonable price.

The progressives also pushed back on a competing proposal under discussion that would allow an outside arbiter to help set drug prices, warning that the idea would be too weak.

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The meeting comes as House Democrats try to bridge a divide that has opened up within the party on the best way to move forward on lowering drug prices, one of their signature issues.

Lawmakers said the chairmen listened during the meeting and expressed openness to different ideas while not offering a plan of their own.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' White House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates MORE's (D-Calif.) office is working on a drug-pricing proposal that would use arbitration, though lawmakers leaving the meeting Tuesday did not mention the Democratic leader when criticizing the arbitration idea.

Progressive Caucus leaders said a bill using arbitration — instead of the stronger mechanism of stripping monopolies — could lose many of their votes.

"There are members in our caucus who, if it comes out to be a weak arbitration bill that doesn't include a comprehensive list of drugs, I would have a hard time seeing something like that personally, as well as many other members," Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanHouse approves amendments to rein in federal forces in cities House Democrats backtrack, will pull Homeland Security bill On The Money: GOP mulls short-term unemployment extension | White House, Senate GOP strike deal on B for coronavirus testing MORE (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said after the meeting.

Neal did not rule out the stronger bill that the progressives want, which is sponsored by Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettGOP plan would boost deduction for business meals Gilead sets price for five-day coronavirus treatment at ,120 The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases MORE (D-Texas), when leaving the meeting.

Asked about that bill, Neal said, "All of these will be parts of the conversation, yeah, and I think the conversation is going to continue."

Asked if he is wedded to the idea of using an outside arbiter to set drug prices, Neal simply said, "No."

Doggett said leaving the meeting that it was a positive discussion and said he appreciated that the chairmen were not ruling out ideas.

"I don't view arbitration as really negotiation, it is just a way of shifting responsibility to an unaccountable third party," Doggett said.