Divisions are emerging in the House over what lawmakers hoped would be a bipartisan push to lower drug prices.
Drug pricing is a rare area where members of both parties think there is a chance for a deal this year. But as House Democrats took the first step on Wednesday to begin moving legislation forward, it was clear that even relatively small-scale drug pricing bills may not have a smooth path ahead.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee raised objections to several of the bills at the hearing, accusing Democrats of refusing to negotiate with them on the legislation.
“We do want to lower the cost of prescription drugs, [but] we wish it were more inclusive,” said Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the top Republican on the committee, about the process.
Democrats pointed out that many of the bills, which are aimed at increasing competition from cheaper generic drugs, already have support from some Republican lawmakers.
The bills are likely to pass the Democratic-controlled House. But getting a significant number of House Republicans on board for a strong vote would raise pressure on the GOP-controlled Senate to act on the issue.
Some Democrats are also hoping that winning support from President Trump, who has railed against the high cost of drugs, will help win over more congressional Republicans.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week that Trump “assured” her that he wants to work together on lowering drug prices.
But without the support of GOP congressional leaders, passing the bill with strong Republican support becomes a much harder task.
The relatively small-scale measures considered Wednesday, many of which have at least some bipartisan support, are part of a House Democratic strategy to start with “low-hanging fruit” on drug prices before later moving on to bigger items like Medicare negotiating drug prices.
But even the low-hanging fruit is exposing divisions.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said the measures considered Wednesday would increase competition in the marketplace from cheaper generic drugs. He tried to frame the issue with language that could appeal to GOP lawmakers.
“This is capitalism,” Pallone said. “That’s what we’re about here.”
Asked after the hearing whether there is a path forward for him to support the measures, Walden said “possibly” but noted that he wanted changes.
“I guess the question is the next step and whether the majority’s willing to make some improvements,” Walden told The Hill.
Those concerns were also amplified on Tuesday by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.
Burgess told The Hill that Democrats only shared the drug bills with him last week instead of bringing him in for negotiations.
“It could have been much better handled,” he said.
One of the highest-profile measures before the committee on Wednesday was the Creates Act. The bill would crack down on drug companies who game the system to delay competition from generic drugs.
Democrats noted that the bill already has Republican supporters, including Reps. David McKinley (W.Va.), Doug Collins (Ga.) and Mark Meadows (N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
In the Senate, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Finance Committee, also supports the measure.
“We actually have some diversity of opinion on our side,” Walden acknowledged, before joking, “and you should see it on some other topics.”
House Republicans at the hearing, though, raised concerns that the measures could harm innovation from drug companies or set off “frivolous lawsuits” from generic drug companies.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a former chairman of the committee, warned of the “unintended consequences of hampering innovation in medicine.”
The brand-name drug industry, a powerful force in Washington, has raised similar concerns and has long worked against many of the bills Democrats brought up for consideration Wednesday.
Democrats pushed back on the criticism.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Health Subcommittee, said “the sky is really not caving in” and noted that GOP lawmakers already support some of the bills.
But Republicans were insistent they wanted changes to the bill highlighting the complicated debate over drug prices.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), one of the House’s fiercest critics of drug companies, expressed hope that a deal could be reached.
At a separate hearing on Tuesday, Welch secured commitments from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to work with lawmakers on bills, including the Creates Act.
“It’s kind of exciting to be here because we’re actually on the threshold of doing something,” Welch said.
Date: March 20, 2019
Source: The Hill