House Democrats change drug pricing bill in bid to address progressive concerns

House Democrats change drug pricing bill in bid to address progressive concerns
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House Democratic leaders are adjusting their signature bill to lower drug prices in an effort to address progressive concerns that a previous version of it was not strong enough.

The underlying bill will allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for up to 250 drugs per year, and the savings will apply to people in private insurance plans as well as Medicare. 

The changes released Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee would increase the minimum number of drugs that must be negotiated from 25 to 35, and would require negotiation on some newly-launched drugs if their prices are more than the median U.S. household income. 

House progressives have been pushing to make the bill stronger, and the number of drugs and how to address launch prices of new drugs were both major objections that they had made, even as the move from 25 drugs to 35 drugs is not considered a major change. 

The measure is expected to pass the House later this month or early next month, though there are still concerns from some lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Meadows: Election will be held on November third Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency MORE (R-Ky.) has vowed to kill the bill in the Senate, calling it “socialist.”

Progressives had a range of reactions to the changes. 

A representative for the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) had no immediate comment on the changes.

But Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyDemocrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Democrats introduce bill to repeal funding ban on abortions abroad Trade negotiations mustn't short-circuit domestic debate MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the progressive caucus and an ally of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' White House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates MORE (D-Calif.), appeared to be won over by the changes, as she released a statement endorsing the bill on Tuesday night. 

Other progressives are still not satisfied, including Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettGOP plan would boost deduction for business meals Gilead sets price for five-day coronavirus treatment at ,120 The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases MORE (D-Texas), who has been one of the most outspoken in pushing the bill in a more progressive direction. 

“Congressman Doggett is still vigorously pursuing substantial improvements to strengthen the bill,” a Doggett spokesperson said. 

Doggett is pushing for a range of changes, such as negotiation on more drugs and including protections against drug price spikes for people on private insurance plans and the uninsured. 

Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, a progressive group, said the changes move in the right direction. 

“We’re very proud, progressives are proud, of making H.R. 3 better,” he said. “It’s a significant down payment in the fight against pharma.”

Even before the changes, the Congressional Budget Office found the bill would save Medicare $345 billion over seven years. 

He said his group supports the bill but would also support additional improvements. 

On the other side of the spectrum, Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyLawmakers weigh in on role of private equity firms in economic recovery The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Coronavirus relief negotiations underway with lawmakers back in Washington The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided GOP to unveil COVID-19 bill MORE (D-Fla.), co-chairwoman of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, declined to comment on whether she supports the bill. 

“That bill hasn’t even gotten a markup in my committee [yet],” she said.