ICYMI: Drug Price Outrage Threatens To Be Liability For GOP
By Jessie Hellmann
January 10, 2020
The GOP’s reluctance to challenge rising prescription drug costs could be a political liability for the party in 2020.
Outrage over increasing prices has propelled the issue to the top of voters’ minds heading into the November elections, when Republicans hope to keep control of the Senate and retake the House.
But proposals that would limit what drug companies can charge for their products face opposition from Republicans, presenting an obstacle to congressional passage.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he won’t hold a vote on a House-passed bill supported by Democrats that would require the federal government to negotiate lower prices for some drugs covered by Medicare.
He is also reluctant to hold a vote on a separate bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), that would limit the price increases drug companies typically make every year.
But as Republicans fight to keep control of the Senate, doing nothing on an issue of vast importance to voters is also a gamble.
“I made it very clear, just strictly from a political standpoint, that every one of these senators is hearing the same thing I am in Iowa: People are fed up with big increases in drug prices,” said Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“And there’s 22 Republicans up for reelection and they need an answer to that.”
While Grassley says the bill has the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate, he needs more support from Republicans before McConnell will allow a vote on it.
High drug prices are one of the top issues lawmakers hear about from their constituents. About 1 in 5 adults say they or someone in their household has been unable to afford their prescription drugs in the past year, according to a Gallup poll released in November.
Drug companies raised prices this month on hundreds of drugs by a median of 5 percent, according to health care research firm 3 Axis Advisors, driving more scrutiny and outrage from advocates and lawmakers.
But getting anything through Congress, especially in an election year when members are less willing to vote on controversial issues, will be tough.
Grassley considers his plan, which he's worked on with Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a compromise between the two sides, but some Republicans still think limiting price increases goes too far toward government control of private businesses.
Grassley still hopes to get more Republican support and attach his measure to a must-pass package of bills in May that would extend funding for several health programs.
And removing the provision that caps drug price increases would likely mean losing the support of Democrats. Grassley has insisted throughout the whole process that the bill needs to be bipartisan to work.
“We need to see action, not around the edges, but to meaningfully lower drug prices,” said Ben Wakana, executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs, a group that supports the Grassley-Wyden bill and price negotiation. “Patients want to see lower prices at the pharmacy counter.”
Grassley also said the bill is intended to give political cover to Republicans up for reelection.
Indeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats passed a bill late last year that would require Medicare to negotiate the prices it pays for prescription drugs.
Price negotiation has been incredibly popular in polls among voters in both parties, including 85 percent of Republicans, and Democrats plan to run on it in 2020.
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