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GOP senators raise concerns over potential deal to lower drug prices

GOP senators raise concerns over potential deal to lower drug prices
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Republican Senators and Trump administration officials met Tuesday morning to debate a potential deal to lower drug prices, with some attendees raising concerns about a possible agreement with Democrats.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Republican senators urge Trump to dodge pardon controversies Grassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary MORE (R-Iowa) held the meeting with GOP committee members to discuss a possible agreement that he has been negotiating for months with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the panel.

But pushback from some in the GOP may pose an obstacle to a final breakthrough.

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Their sticking point is an idea pushed by Wyden that would limit the ability of drug companies to raise prices faster than inflation in Medicare’s prescription drug program, called Part D. Drug companies would have to pay money back to Medicare if their prices rose too quickly.

Some GOP senators say that approach is akin to price controls, which are anathema to many Republicans.

“The key is the Wyden amendment,” said Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsTrump's controversial Fed nominee stalled after Senate setback Business groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair Republicans hold on to competitive Kansas House seat MORE (R-Kan.) after leaving the meeting. “I think basically it's the first step toward government rate controls on drug prices. If people want to do that they can, but I don’t think that’s a good answer.”

“People expressed their views, both pro and con,” Roberts added.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and White House health care adviser Joe Grogan also attended the meeting.

Lowering drug prices is seen as one of the few areas for bipartisan action this year in Congress, but it remains to be seen whether the Grassley-Wyden talks will lead to something that can pass the GOP-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House.

Grassley and Wyden met with each other before last week’s July 4 recess and came close to striking a deal, but a key question is how GOP senators would react to it.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Pa.), one of the most conservative lawmakers in the Senate, said Tuesday that he had “concerns,” but declined to elaborate.

“I have lots of concerns, but we had a constructive conversation,” Toomey said while leaving the meeting.

Grassley said in Iowa last week that he hoped to have a markup in committee as soon as July 17 if the deal “holds together.”

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell chokes up saying goodbye to 'friend' Lamar Alexander in floor speech Mark Kelly sworn in to Senate seat Longtime GOP lawmaker urges Senate to restore itself in farewell speech MORE (R-Tenn.) is pushing to have a full Senate vote on a health care package that could include a drug pricing deal before the end of July.

Lawmakers said they are also waiting to get feedback from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on some of the main proposals out there.

“I don’t think anybody's ready to cast any votes just yet, but we're trying to figure out what the traffic will bear and what we think we can get the votes to do,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump doubles down on Section 230 repeal after GOP pushback Congress faces late-year logjam Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican. “The chairman wants to get some feedback from the CBO on some of these ideas and see what some of the potential impacts would be, so there's no deal yet, but a good discussion.”

Asked what the administration’s message was, Thune said: “They'd like to see a deal. They want to see something to lower drug prices. We all do.”