Senate Finance chair releases principles for lowering prescription drug prices

Senate Finance chair releases principles for lowering prescription drug prices
© Greg Nash

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenRepublicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change GOP, business groups snipe at Biden restaurant remarks On The Money: Senate braces for nasty debt ceiling fight | Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan deal | Housing prices hit new high in June MORE (D-Ore.) on Tuesday released principles for his proposal to lower prescription drug prices, saying current costs are “unacceptable.”

Wyden has been working behind the scenes to craft a bill to lower drug prices that can get all 50 Senate Democrats on board so that a measure can pass the chamber, as Republican support is not expected. 

While some of the contours were already known, the principles released on Tuesday provide the first written indication of what Senate Democrats want. Still, there are many details that are not included in the document, highlighting the work ahead to craft the specifics. 

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The principles call for Medicare to be able to negotiate lower drug prices, a long-held goal for Democrats that is largely opposed by Republicans.

Importantly, Wyden also calls for the lower prices to apply to people in private insurance plans, not just in Medicare. He also calls for capping out of pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries at the pharmacy counter and limiting drug price increases in Medicare to the rate of inflation. 

“The United States is the largest market for biopharmaceuticals, yet prices in our country for many prescription drugs are the highest in the world,” Wyden wrote. “Americans often tell their elected officials they worry that being prescribed an expensive drug therapy will ruin them financially. This is unacceptable.”

The drug pricing proposal could be included in a massive legislative package also including President BidenJoe BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' MORE’s priorities in the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. Lowering drug prices also produces savings that can be used on other health care priorities, such as increased Affordable Care Act financial assistance, expanding Medicaid in states that have not done so, or adding dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare. 

Wyden faces the task of balancing the wishes of the progressive and moderate wings of Senate Democrats. The Senate bill is expected to be less far-reaching than the House bill, in a bid to win support from moderate Senate Democrats whose support is needed. 

The details of how Medicare negotiates lower drug prices will be key. For example, some moderates object to an idea from the House bill to first cap drug prices based on the prices paid in other wealthy countries.  

Wyden’s principles are largely silent on those details, for now.