Healthcare

Pelosi aide: Major bill to lower drug prices coming in September

A top aide to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiObjections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated Latest pro-democracy rally draws tens of thousands in Hong Kong Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' MORE (D-Calif.) said Monday that House Democrats will unveil their long-awaited bill to lower drug prices in September. 

Wendell Primus, Pelosi's top health care adviser, said House leadership is almost ready to release the proposal but is opting to wait and not leave drug companies the opportunity to attack the bill during the Congressional recess next month.

“Pharma will argue very hard against drug negotiation of the kind we're talking about,” Primus said at an event hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington. 

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The measure will allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which has for years been a top goal for Democrats. The prices that are negotiated will apply to private insurers as well, bringing down costs across the market, Primus said. 

If Medicare and drug companies cannot agree on a price, Primus said there would be a tax on the drug companies as a way to encourage them to be at the table. He also said there would be an arbitration process to help resolve disputes, overseen by a government agency, something progressives have attacked as inefficient and slow. 

“I don’t think very many cases would actually go to arbitration,” Primus said. 

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Primus has been talking to the White House for months about the proposal. President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE has also railed against high drug prices, and Primus said he is “still very optimistic” that the president would sign the proposal House Democrats are working on. 

Some Democrats have expressed concern about giving Trump a political win on one of Democrats’ signature issues, but Primus said that his boss is intent on lowering drug prices for the public. 

He stressed, however, that he is not “negotiating” with the White House but instead is simply keeping White House staff up to date on what the House is working on.  

Progressive House Democrats have been worried for months the plan will not go far enough in taking on drug companies and bringing prices down. 

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Asked if progressives are comfortable with the bill, Primus said, “Yes and no.”

He said he is “very comfortable that they will accept it” once they see cost estimates and other information. He added he is just as worried about moderates and the pressure they will get from drug companies.

Primus expressed hope that if the White House supports the bill, it would get a large majority in the House, which could put pressure on the Senate. 

“If the Democrats unveil this and the administration says they like it, you could see this passing the House overwhelmingly,” Primus said. 

House Republicans are largely opposed to Medicare negotiating drug prices, so pressure from Trump — which is far from assured — would be key to having a hope of bringing them on board.