Republicans unveil a drug price bill to rival the Democrats — promising lower prices and more cures
Nancy Pelosi unveiled the Democrats’ drug pricing bill back in September and brought the fight straight to the industry with a proposal to empower the US government to negotiate prices for select drugs. Republicans, who decried the bill reeks of heavy-handed government intervention which will stifle innovation, now have a counterproposal they claim will result in cheaper drugs and incentivize R&D — further clouding the prospects of a bipartisan compromise that could land on Donald Trump’s desk.
“Only one of these bills has the potential to become law. While Speaker Pelosi’s partisan plan is dead on arrival in the Senate and won’t be signed by President Trump, H.R. 19 could be on President Trump’s desk today,” said Republican Whip Steve Scalise in a statement on Monday. And in an acknowledgment that the Republican effort would need Pelosi’s sign-off to reach a vote — a highly unlikely event — Scalise continued, “Speaker Pelosi must come to her senses. I am calling on her to bring H.R. 19 to the House floor for a vote this week. Americans need a bipartisan solution to prescription drug prices, not another doomed proposal from the Democrats.”
Republicans and Democrats both argue drug prices in the United States are too high — the industry holds the crown for the least favored sector by Americans, falling behind the federal government itself — but so far nobody can agree on just how to make the US health care system great again.
The 350-page Republican bill, HR19, proposes creating the role of a ‘chief pharmaceutical negotiator’ at the Office of the United States Trade Representative to advocate on behalf of American patients in trade agreements with respect to prescription drug prices.
In addition, the bill seeks to limit annual out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries at $3,100; caps the cost of insulin for seniors in the Medicare Part D program; requires insurance companies to make information about drug prices transparent at doctor’s offices so patients are apprised of the potential costs before a prescription is written; and ‘streamlines’ the regulation of over-the-counter products.
Some of the proposals in HR19 also mirror policies advocated by bipartisan legislation currently under consideration in the Senate, including the CREATES act which is designed to ensure generic drugmakers can access branded drugs to develop copycats, and prohibits “pay-for-delay” deals, where manufacturers of branded drugs maintain their monopolies by offering generic companies rewards for delaying the launch of knockoff products.
The Democrats’ drug pricing bill — HR 3, which is set to face a vote this week — could compel manufacturers to comply with the prices set by the HHS, or face grave penalties and tethers the price of the some of the nation’s most expensive drugs to an international price index. Unsurprisingly, the bill — which promises to cut federal spending by $345 billion between 2023 and 2029 — elicited the ire of the industry that has so far thrived by taking a laissez-faire approach to pricing. Various analyses have suggested the bill, which is unlikely to be signed into law, could result in between 8 to 100 fewer drugs from reaching the market over the next decade.
A raft of Republican lawmakers issued statements supporting HR19 on Monday, suggesting not only is HR19 superior to HR3, but is far more likely to be signed into law.
“This (bill) contains measures with bipartisan support in the House and Senate, can become law, and deserves a vote. Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi’s partisan drug pricing scheme is not only bad policy, it’s never going to become law,” said the architects of HR19, Kevin Brady, the senior Republican on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, along with Greg Walden (R-OR) and Virginia Foxx (R-NC).
That may well be the case — the White House last week issued a scathing review of HR3, accusing the Pelosi bill of favoring short-term savings over the “long-term cost of American patients losing access to new lifesaving treatments.” But with Democrats firmly in charge of the House of Representatives, HR19 faces a similarly quixotic road to Trump’s desk, with articles of impeachment threatening to overshadow the political calendar.