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  • Washington Highlights

    House Democratic Leaders Introduce Legislation to Reduce Prescription Drug Costs

    Len Marquez, Senior Director, Government Relations
    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Ways and Means Committee Chair Richie Neal (D-Mass.) held a press conference Sept. 19 unveiling the Lower Prescription Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), the Speaker’s prescription drug legislation aimed at lowering prices the government and patients pay for prescription drugs.

    At the press conference, Speaker Pelosi stressed challenge for families facing high drug prices and that Congress needs to act, saying, “For years, seniors and families across America have struggled under the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. Drugs they need to stay healthy, but also the cost of drugs threatening their financial health and well‑being as well … The burden of out‑of‑control prescription costs is an issue that touches every family in America. That was self‑evident in the election of 2018. It's still a big issue as we go forward. We don't want a political issue at the polls. We want a solution in the Congress, and we want it now.”

    The legislation, officially introduced by Pallone, Neal, and Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.), would grant the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) broad powers to negotiate prescription drug prices in an effort to drive down their high costs.

    Other major provisions included in H.R. 3 would:

    • Require the HHS Secretary to negotiate the prices on up to 250 of the most costly drugs to Medicare and the entire U.S. health system that do not have competition from at least one generic or biosimilar on the market.
    • Establish the Average International Market price, a maximum price for any negotiated drug based on an international price index from six countries. 
    • Create significant penalties for drug manufacturers who refuse to participate in the drug pricing negotiation process or fail to reach agreement with HHS.
    • Limit price increases for Medicare Part B and Part D drugs to the rate of inflation and create a Medicare Part B and D inflation rebate.
    • Mandate an annual $2,000 cap on the Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses.
    • Require that savings from drug price negotiations be reinvested in the National Institutes of Health.

    In response to the legislation, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) issued a statement expressing serious concerns with the H.R. 3, saying, “The Pelosi plan is a step toward nationalizing the drug industry and opening the door to a one-size-fits all, government-controlled rationing of prescription drugs. This exacerbates the existing government policies that got us here in the first place while damaging the free market that has created these life changing medications and cures … Caught in the aftermath of this socialist economic disaster are those devoting their lives to healing others and those they are trying to heal. Congress can find a bipartisan solution to lower drug prices without taking away choice, access, and control from patients and doctors. We have to.”

    Prior to the release of H.R. 3, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Pallone and Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) announced a Sept. 25 hearing on prescription drug pricing entitled, “Making Prescription Drugs More Affordable: Legislation to Negotiate a Better Deal for Americans.” In a press release, Pallone and Eshoo echoed the Speaker’s comments, saying, “Across the nation, millions of Americans struggle to keep up with the soaring cost of prescription drugs without any relief in sight … The status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable. It’s time for Congress to act on behalf of consumers by passing legislation that lowers prescription drug prices and negotiates a better deal for them.”

    In addition to H.R. 3, the subcommittee will discuss other prescription drug legislation including the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2019 (H.R.275), the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act (H.R.448), and the Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act of 2019 (H.R. 1046) [see Washington Highlights, March 8].

    The House is expected to hold several hearings on prescription drug prices this fall in an attempt to finalize legislation by the end of the year.