WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden’s call to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices has fueled Democrats on a politically popular idea they have been pushing for nearly 20 years, only to be disappointed.
But they still lack a clear path for legislation. This is because a small number of Democrats remain troubled by government price restrictions on pharmaceutical companies.
Parliament Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will need any democratic vote in a tightly divided Congress. Otherwise, Democrats may have to settle for a compromise that does not reach their goal. Or they could take the issue into the 2022 by-elections.
“This is not a done deal,” Welch continued. “We have a president and a spokesman, but Pharma is very powerful.” Pharma is a nickname for the industry and its main lobby group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PhRMA.
The industry has thwarted President Donald Trump’s multifaceted efforts to limit its price power. Although Trump entered the office, accusing drug manufacturers of “getting away with murder” and promising to end it, companies came out of office with only a few blows and layoffs.
The PhRMA industry lobby group is considered one of the most qualified operators in Washington. Its mission: to maintain a clause in the 2003 law that created a benefit for Medicare pharmacies, prohibiting the government from interfering in price negotiations between drug manufacturers and insurers. This was accepted before the $ 1,000 pills became old hats.
PhRMA CEO Stephen Uble announced after Biden’s speech to Congress last week that the industry was ready to defend its prerogative. “Giving the government the power to arbitrarily set the price of medicines is not the right approach,” he said in a statement, arguing that it would stifle innovation. Such measured language denies the influence of the group. It is usually among the five largest users of lobbying in Washington and networks with allied groups in the United States..
“I don’t think anyone is fully prepared for the attack we expect from the PhRMA,” said Margarida Jorge, director of the “Lower Drug Prices Now” campaign, a coalition that supports the Medicare talks. “We will see a much bigger game.”
Pelosi returned the negotiations for Medicare with the re-introduction of an ambitious bill, which she submitted through the House in 2019. Medicare will use lower average prices in other economically advanced countries to negotiate the best drugs. Companies that refuse to make deals will be hit with a high tax. Drug manufacturers that raise prices above inflation will owe Medicare discounts. Hundreds of billions of dollars, potentially saved through legislation, will be invested back into other health programs. Private insurers covering people of working age could provide lower Medicare prices.
In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Biden invited lawmakers to imagine the possibilities. “The money we are saving, which is billions of dollars, can go to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicare benefits without costing extra pennies to taxpayers,” the president said. “It is in our power to do so. Let’s do it now. We talked about it long enough. “
But Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is urging Biden to lower his gaze a little. Grassley opposes the negotiating body for Medicare, but supports the requirement for drug manufacturers to pay discounts to raise prices above inflation – a potential compromise. “I hope the president will reconsider the dream of the liberal trumpet in favor of a big two-party victory,” Grassley said.
Polls consistently show strong public support for Empowering Medicare to negotiate. “This is very high among voters’ concerns, and also strongly promised by Biden in the campaign,” said policy expert John Rother, a longtime advocate for drug price restraint. The House Energy and Trade Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday.
One possibility for Pelosi and Sumer would be to link Medicare legislation into a large-scale bill providing Biden’s promises of an “American Employment Plan” for social programs and infrastructure. Such a vehicle seems to offer the greatest chance of overcoming drug price restrictions. But the political dynamics are different in each chamber. What can work in the House may not get anywhere in the Senate.
With its 50-50 divisions, the Senate looks like a stifling point. Most Democrats support the Medicare talks, but some have not.
Among them is Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, whose office says he believes “any drug pricing bill should provide real savings for pharmacy users, not just save the government or the system as a whole.”
“It’s going to be a heavy lift,” said policy expert Roter. “But I don’t think you know for sure until you try.”