Azar calling GOP senators to back Grassley drug price plan

Azar calling GOP senators to back Grassley drug price plan
© Greg Nash

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar is calling Republican senators to encourage them to vote for a bill to lower drug prices being considered on Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee, according to sources familiar with the matter. 

The calls from Azar are a sign of the Trump administration’s support for the bipartisan deal between Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyBooker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senators introduce bill to block funding for border wall live stream Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant MORE (D-Ore.), amid blowback from some in the GOP.  

Many GOP senators have concerns with the proposal, worrying that it is too close to price controls on drugs, which Republicans have traditionally opposed. 

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The support from the administration could help ease concerns, although President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump opens new line of impeachment attack for Democrats Bloomberg to spend 0M on anti-Trump ads in battleground states New witness claims first-hand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes MORE himself has not tweeted or commented publicly on the measure. 

The White House released a supportive statement on Tuesday after the committee unveiled the deal. Trump has made lowering drug prices a priority, though several of his efforts have been withdrawn, increasing pressure on Congress to act. 

Asked about the calls, HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said: “We are encouraged by the work of the Senate Finance Committee, which reflects many ideas set forth in President Trump’s budget to lower prescription drug costs and reduce out of pocket costs for Americans.”

“Now is the time for seniors to have real protection for their pocketbooks, for drug companies to be held accountable, and for the American patient to finally come first,” she added. 

The most contentious part of the measure for GOP senators is a limit on drug price increases in Medicare’s prescription drug program, called Part D. It would force drug companies to pay money back to Medicare if their prices rose faster than inflation, and is a top priority for Wyden. 

“I haven’t made a final decision,” Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Nearing finish line, fight for cannabis banking bill shifts to the Senate MORE (R-Idaho) said Wednesday. “As you might guess, I’m not happy with the inflation cap.”

Asked if the White House’s support factors into his decision, Crapo said, “It certainly is a factor, but it’s not the entire factor.”

The measure is expected to clear committee with a handful of GOP defections. But its chances of coming to the full Senate for a vote are slimmer, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Warren promises gradual move toward 'Medicare for All' in first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) could be reluctant to vote on a bill that splits Republican senators.