WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives passed far-reaching legislation to lower drug prices, bolstering Democrats’ health-care message in the 2020 election campaign, although the bill has almost no chance to be taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate.
The passage of the package championed by House Speaker
would empower the federal government to negotiate prices for certain costly drugs in Medicare and the private market. The legislation—which passed by a 230-192 margin, with 228 Democrats voting in support, joined by two Republicans—would limit out-of-pocket prescription-drug costs for people in Medicare and expand the program to cover dental, vision and hearing.
The bill won’t pass before next year’s election because Republicans largely object to measures they are calling price controls. President
has threatened to veto the plan.
Some Republicans and pharmaceutical lobbying groups have said the plan would discourage investment in research on new cures and treatments. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s primary lobbying group. has said it would siphon $1 trillion or more from biopharmaceutical innovation over 10 years, leading to fewer drugs.
Mrs. Pelosi pushed her legislation through despite initial objections from progressive members who said the bill wasn’t aggressive enough and didn’t open enough drugs in Medicare to negotiation.
Mrs. Pelosi cheered the passage, saying, “Prescription drug prices are out of control,” adding that pharmaceutical companies are reaping record profits while 58 million Americans couldn’t afford to fill a prescription they needed last year.
House Minority Leader
(R., Calif.) called the bill “political posturing,” adding, “It won’t become law. It will be another talking point.”
Democrats say the House passage proves the party can deliver on campaign pledges to bring down drug prices, and highlights a lack of action by Republicans and President Trump. Democrats are likely to use the bill’s passage following months of wrangling to spotlight work they are doing beyond impeachment.
“This bill does not cater to a base, this bill does not cater to big pharma, but this bill does cater to that family tonight that has to choose between paying for prescription drugs or putting food on the table,” said
Rep. Max Rose
Lawmakers have struggled to unify around legislation to lower prescription drug prices even though both parties are eager to claim progress before the 2020 election. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in September, 70% of the public said lowering prescription drug costs should be a priority for Congress in the coming year.
Mr. Trump has retreated from his 2016 campaign pledge to let Medicare negotiate for drug prices. The White House has backed away from supporting Mrs. Pelosi’s bill after initially negotiating with her on it.
Republicans say the House legislation marked a purposeful effort to undermine support for a bipartisan Senate Finance Committee drug-pricing bill pushed by GOP
Sen. Chuck Grassley
of Iowa and Democrat
Sen. Ron Wyden
Top White House advisers back the Senate proposal, even though some Republicans have balked at a provision that would require drugmakers to reimburse Medicare if prices rise faster than inflation.
“It’s a messaging bill, it’s purely political, and it will not help the people it intends to help,”
Rep. Jodey Arrington
(R., Texas) said.
House Republicans led by
Rep. Greg Walden
of Oregon on Monday countered Mrs. Pelosi’s proposal by releasing their own, more moderate drug pricing legislation. It includes bipartisan measures such as capping seniors’ out-of-pocket prescription costs in Medicare that could be packaged in other year-end federal legislation.
Mrs. Pelosi said the GOP bill makes only incremental changes.
Supporters of Mrs. Pelosi’s bill describe it as the largest piece of drug-pricing legislation to pass a body of Congress.
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The bill would let the government negotiate the prices for expensive drugs that don’t have competition. A minimum of 50 drugs annually would be subject to negotiation.
A last-minute deal this week hammered out with Reps.
(D., Wash.) and
(D., Wis.), who head the Congressional Progressive Caucus, added a feasibility study to extend rebates for drug prices that increase faster than inflation to employer-sponsored coverage.
Price-negotiation provisions would lower spending by about $456 billion over 10 years, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and the bill would increase revenues by about $46 billion over the same period. Expanding Medicare, a federal insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities, to include dental, vision and hearing coverage would raise spending by approximately $358 billion.
In addition, the bill provides $10 billion to battle opioid addiction and well as investments in innovation at the National Institutes of Health.
Critics say it would hurt patients.
“This legislation’s government price controls on prescription drugs would threaten to cut critical medical research dollars,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a letter Wednesday to House members.
Write to Stephanie Armour at [email protected]
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