Grassley says Trump pushing for drug pricing action after Senate lunch

Grassley says Trump pushing for drug pricing action after Senate lunch
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer employees critique EPA under Trump in new report Fired State Department watchdog says Pompeo aide attempted to 'bully' him over investigations Virginia senator calls for Barr to resign over order to clear protests MORE told Republican senators during a meeting on Tuesday that he still wants congressional action to lower drug prices, even though the coronavirus pandemic has sucked up oxygen, according to Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care: Hydroxychloroquine ineffective in preventing COVID-19, study finds | WHO to resume hydroxychloroquine clinical research | WHO says no evidence coronavirus is mutating Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Bipartisan lawmakers press Trump administration to get COVID-19 aid to Medicaid providers MORE (R-Iowa). 

Trump’s comments came during a closed-door lunch with GOP senators on Capitol Hill, where Grassley, a longtime proponent of lowering drug prices, asked Trump if the issue is still on the table. 

“I said the virus comes along and takes all your attention, so my question is do you still want us to put a bill on your desk to reduce drug prices?” Grassley recounted during an interview with Iowa radio station KSCJ on Wednesday. 

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“And he talked about it for a long period of time, as he takes a long time to answer questions, but he said yes, he expected us to put a bill on [his desk],” Grassley said. 

Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is the co-sponsor of a bipartisan measure with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Hydroxychloroquine ineffective in preventing COVID-19, study finds | WHO to resume hydroxychloroquine clinical research | WHO says no evidence coronavirus is mutating Bipartisan lawmakers press Trump administration to get COVID-19 aid to Medicaid providers USTR launches investigations into countries' digital taxes MORE (D-Ore.) to lower drug prices. 

Last year, there was gathering momentum in both parties for some action to lower drug prices, and House Democrats passed an even more sweeping bill that they said was one of their top priorities. 

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But the issue has faded amid the coronavirus pandemic. And pharmaceutical companies, who took a rhetorical beating in Washington last year, are pointing to their efforts to develop coronavirus vaccines and treatments in a bid to shore up their image. 

The chances for drug pricing action have also faded given the delay of a crucial deadline for a range of health care legislation until after the election. 

Grassley, however, argued that the economic fallout from the coronavirus makes his bill for drug affordability even more important. 

“The coronavirus pandemic lends even more urgency to our efforts to ensure lifesaving cures are affordable,” he wrote in an op-ed with Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunRepublicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Ind.) earlier this month. 

Many GOP senators object to Grassley’s bill, citing a particular provision limiting drug price increases in Medicare to the rate of inflation, which they deem a price control. 

In the House, Democrats' frequent calls for drug pricing action last year have died down. 

A handful of House progressives have pushed to include far-reaching measures to lower prices for coronavirus treatments, like banning drug companies from having exclusive rights to a drug, into the most recent Democratic stimulus package. But Democratic leadership did not include those measures.