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 GrassleyUSTR launches investigations into countries' digital taxes Rosenstein steps back into GOP crosshairs Is Trump encouraging the world's use of national security as stealth protectionism? MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenUSTR launches investigations into countries' digital taxes House Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' On The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program 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 says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? 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 Trump has made lowering drug prices a priority, though several of his efforts have been withdrawn, increasing pressure on Congress to act.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 CrapoOn The Money: US tops 100,000 coronavirus deaths with no end in sight | How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response | Tenants fear mass evictions GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response 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 McConnellTrump congratulates Steve King challenger on GOP primary win The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Republicans turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks MORE (R-Ky.) could be reluctant to vote on a bill that splits Republican senators.