A broadly popular proposal to reduce the price of prescription drugs looks like it may get left out of the Democrats’ sweeping social spending bill. It is not included in the White House’s Thursday framework.
Democrats had hoped to give the federal government the power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices—a power used by all other wealthy countries that allows them to enjoy Many medications are now much less expensiveThe U.S. THe proposes It is extremely popular among Americans of all stripes—Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike —and President Joe Biden and dozens of Democratic lawmakers campaigned in 2020 on a promise to deliver lower drug prices this year.
In this context, the Democrats’ failure to include the provision in their wide-ranging social policy framework is indicative of the astonishing power of the pharmaceutical industry. Big Pharma employs Around 1,500 Capitol Hill lobbyists spent over $177 Million on lobbying, campaign donations and other activities in 2021.
Although the industry traditionally gave more money to Republican candidates, 60 percent of this year’s campaign donations went to Democrats. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)—the industry’s main trade group—spent $7.44 million on lobbying during the third quarter alone, a nearly 25% increase from the same period last year.
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NOne Republican legislator supports the idea that Medicare can negotiate drug prices, while most Democrats support it. However, a few Democratic standoffs seem to have been enough to stop the proposal. The lawmakers included Senator Kyrsten Silena in Arizona, Bob Menendez from New Jersey, Tom Carper and Tom Carper respectively. Also, Rep. Scott Peters (California), Rep. Kurt Schrader from Oregon and Rep. Kathleen Rice (New York) were among them. Most were The top recipientsThe pharmaceutical industry makes a lot of money.
Big Pharma’s influence is more than just manpower and deep pockets, health care insiders say. It can play Washington like it’s a game. “This is a very powerful industry with significant lobbying clout,” says Larry Levitt, executive vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. But it’s also “very good at knowing exactly how many votes they need to kill pieces of legislation, and figuring out a way to get those votes.”
It’s still possible for drug prices not to go out of fashion.
Biden’s most recent framework is not final. Two of the key members of the Committee Chairmen stated Thursday that they still want to see a clause in the package which would lower drug prices.
“I remain committed to finalizing an agreement that includes price negotiation, a cap on seniors’ out-of-pocket drug spending, and a penalty for Big Pharma companies that unfairly raise prices,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone of New Jersey said in a statement on Thursday.
Ron Wyden (Senate Finance Committee Chair) also stated that he continues to hold conversations about the issue of drug pricing. “We’re staying at it. This is too important,” he told reporters.
Pallone also told reporters that if the provision did not end up in the package, the only reason would be “because of pharma and their lackeys in the Congress.”
Soon after, the White House published the outline on Thursday. It did not include any mention of drug pricing plans. Politico reportedBiden reached an agreement with Sinema on the matter, who was one of her most frustrating colleagues during the negotiations for the spending bill. The details of Biden and Sinema’s agreement remain unclear.
Both Reps. Peters & Schrader have been recipients of large pharmaceutical donations and have suggested a more business-friendly solution. It would allow Medicare to negotiate prices—but only for medications used in outpatient services, and only after the drugs’ patents expire. This is the version. Also included are provisions that would limit seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses and penalize manufacturers for raising prices above inflation. The plan is starkly opposed to the more comprehensive proposal supported by Senator Bernie Sanders and other Democrats, which would let the government negotiate Medicare Part A. This covers significantly more drugs.
Many Democrats have been critical of Peters’ and Schrader’s slimmed down proposal. Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, who has been a vocal supporter of the more ambitious plan, called the negotiation powers in Peters’ bill a “fig leaf” on a press call Monday, saying that it could encourage drug companies to extend patent protections further and leave consumers “at the mercy of monopoly pricing power.”
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Sanders stressed that the spending plan should include a major drug pricing strategy. On Thursday, he called the omission of the drug pricing provision in Biden’s framework a “major problem.” Two days earlier, he told reporters: “Any serious reconciliation bill must include real Medicare negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry to lower the cost of prescription drugs. That’s probably the issue most on people’s minds.”
‘You don’t make public policy based on polls’
Peters stated that he was against the aggressive pricing of drugs in an interview with TIME. He said it would harm innovation. A portion of pharmaceutical companies’ high-income revenues is used to finance new research.
Peters, who has received the most pharmaceutical money of any member in the House of Representatives, told TIME this week that the industry money has not influenced his views on the issue; he advocates for the interests of the tens of thousands of pharmaceutical-related jobs in his San Diego-area district. He argued that just because the prescription drug pricing provision has been popular among voters doesn’t make it the right policy. “You don’t make public policy based on polls,” he says.
His proposal is more likely to be included in the final package, he said. “If you don’t pass anything, you probably don’t have anything to poll,” he says. “And my bill might pass.”
Others remained waiting for the final proposal on drug pricing. Menendez is another frequent ally in the drug industry. Although he stated he will vote against the plan for drug pricing that progressives favor, on Wednesday he made a statement to TIME that he would be open to Medicare negotiating some prices.
It’s now or never
Any proposal by Democrats that grants the government power to negotiate drug price would represent a major shift. Big Pharma has succeeded in killing lawmakers’ attempts to regulate drug prices for decades. They defeated efforts under President Bill Clinton’s 1990s administration; when Medicare was created in 2003. During the Affordable Care Act discussion in 2009, and 2010,
Drug pricing advocates argue that Democrats must get this right. If Democratic lawmakers end up with no drug pricing proposal in this wide-ranging spending bill, they not only leave millions of Americans struggling to afford their medicines, they also miss the best chance they’ve had in decades. Republicans will have a gift if Democrats don’t deliver on this popular issue going into their tough midterm elections in 2022.
“This is the best chance Democrats have had to address high drug prices in a generation,” Levitt says. “If they lose this opportunity, another one may not come along for quite some time.”
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