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 GrassleyGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Lobbying groups ask Congress for help on Trump tariffs 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 conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report 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 Trump has made lowering drug prices a priority, though several of his efforts have been withdrawn, increasing pressure on Congress to act.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 CrapoBipartisan housing finance reform on the road less taken 2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft Trump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul 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 McConnellLawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills Budowsky: Donald, Boris, Bibi — The right in retreat Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet MORE (R-Ky.) could be reluctant to vote on a bill that splits Republican senators.