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 GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate GOP seeks to redirect criticism over Trump tax returns Grassley says disclosing Trump's tax records without authorization could violate law MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump tax revelations shine a spotlight on IRS enforcement Bottom line Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The support from the administration could help ease concerns, although President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus 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 Trump has made lowering drug prices a priority, though several of his efforts have been withdrawn, increasing pressure on Congress to act.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 CrapoSupreme Court nominee gives no clues in GOP meeting Barrett to sit with McConnell and other GOP senators in back-to-back meetings Bottom line 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 McConnellGOP senators pan debate: 'S---show,' 'awful,' 'embarrassment' 'One more serious try' on COVID-19 relief yields progress but no deal The Hill's Campaign Report: Debate fallout l Trump clarifies remarks on Proud Boys l Down to the wire in South Carolina MORE (R-Ky.) could be reluctant to vote on a bill that splits Republican senators.