What To Watch For In Prescription Drug Senate Committee Debate

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley is preparing to chair one of his most consequential committee meetings in recent years as Congress works to combat the soaring cost of prescription drugs in the United States.

“The issue of skyrocketing prescription drug prices has been kicked down the road by members of Congress for far too long,” said Grassley in an op-ed published Wednesday by the Des Moines Register. “That’s why as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m introducing legislation that will directly address the problem and provide relief to everyone struggling under outrageous drug prices.”

The committee, of which Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon is ranking member and a co-sponsor of the bill, will consider the legislation Thursday morning for the first time.

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a 2020 presidential candidate, is one of 13 Democrats on the finance committee.

Bennet, like his presidential primary opponents, favors allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription prices with drug companies, an idea Grassley does not support and did not include in the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019. A recent poll showed that 86% of Iowans favored letting the government negotiate those prices.

In a May speech on the Senate floor, Grassley described himself as “the principle architect of the Medicare Part D program” when it was introduced nearly two decades ago.

The system was designed, he said, to allow the “forces of free enterprise and competition to drive costs down and drive value up.”

Grassley argues allowing the federal government to be in the business of negotiating prescription drug prices would “unravel what’s right about Medicare Part D” and risks limiting the number of prescription drug plans available to seniors.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi supports allowing federal officials to negotiate prices on select, high-cost prescription drugs, while more liberal Democrats advocate for the government’s authority to manage drug prices on a larger scale.

House Democrats have yet to release their own version of Grassley’s bill.

Provisions of Grassley’s legislation include:

Medicare Part D: The bill proposes putting a larger cost burden on insurers and pharmaceutical companies to bring down drug prices for patients; capping the out-of-pocket amount Americans pay for medication; and eliminating coverage “gaps” that increase costs.

Medicare Part B: The bill proposes requiring “more complete and accurate reporting” so prescription drugs are priced accurately; de-incentivizing the prescription of high-cost drugs; and limiting the amount Medicare will cover so pharmaceutical companies are “forced to reevaluate what they charge.”

Medicaid: The bill proposes allowing the program for poor and disabled Americans to pay for gene therapies for rare diseases and aims to prevent “price spreading and gaming” by Pharmacy Benefit Managers so patients, states and the federal government are fairly charged for Medicaid services.

A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill estimates Medicare patients would save $27 billion in out-of-pocket prescription drug costs over a 10-year period.


By Elizabeth Meyer
Photo via Flickr/Sebastian Vital
Posted 7/24/19

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