Healthcare

Democratic chairmen say they are not giving up on adding drug pricing measure

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is seen during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee nomination hearing on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.
Greg Nash

Two Democratic committee chairmen said Thursday that they are not giving up on including provisions to lower prescription drug prices in President Biden’s social spending package after it was left out of a framework released by the White House. 

“We’re staying at it. This is too important,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “I’ve had a number of conversations on that this morning.”
 
A House Energy and Commerce Committee aide said Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) “does not think the Build Back Better Act can pass the House without meaningful reforms to lower the cost of prescription drugs.”
 
But the path forward remains steep, given objections from a handful of moderate Democrats. 
 
One of those moderate Democrats, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), reached an agreement with the White House on a far more scaled-back drug pricing measure, according to a source familiar with the talks. 
 
That agreement was similar to a proposal put forward by Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), which would allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices only in far more limited circumstances, for older drugs that no longer have patent protection. 
 
That proposal has been described as grossly inadequate by drug pricing advocates and by a key House Democratic chairman. 
 
A House Energy and Commerce Committee aide said Thursday that proposals like that “would be unable to pass in the House,” and “would do functionally nothing to lower prescription drug prices for the American people.”
 
“It’s a trojan horse devised by Big Pharma to distract and undermine the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Caucus’ support for negotiating lower prescription drug prices,” the aide added. 
 
Pallone said he is still working but he acknowledged that what he called pharmaceutical industry “lackeys” might succeed in killing the effort. 
 
“We’re still trying to get drug pricing included in the bill, and I do believe it will be, but if it doesn’t, the only reason it doesn’t is because of pharma and their lackeys in the Congress,” Pallone said. 
 
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a moderate, said she hopes leaders agree to the deal Sinema worked out with the White House. 
 
“My hope is that at the end of the day it does get into the final bill,” she said. 
 
Drug pricing advocates were extremely frustrated Thursday that the party appeared to be coming up short on one of its signature campaign promises. 
 
AARP said it was outraged that the package left out Medicare negotiation of drug prices. 
 
“Voters 50+ are a major force in every election and they expect the President and Congress to keep their promises and let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices,” said AARP executive vice president Nancy LeaMond. “They need to include these provisions in the package before they can expect seniors to support it.”
Tags Joe Biden Kurt Schrader Kyrsten Sinema Ron Wyden Scott Peters Stephanie Murphy
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