Pelosi Drug Bill Up for House Vote 12/12 06:32
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Candidate Donald Trump said he could save Medicare
billions by negotiating prescription drug prices. Thursday the House will vote
on a bill by Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would deliver that and much more.
But Trump is not on board.
The California Democrat's legislation is expected to pass the House, but the
White House has laid down a veto threat. And Senate Republicans declare they'll
ignore Pelosi's bill because government shouldn't negotiate drug prices.
That's not stopping Democrats from savoring the moment. They contend Trump's
disapproval shows a lack of conviction behind some of his populist pitches.
And they're betting Pelosi's plan will prove popular with 2020 voters,
helping elect Democrats who will eventually pass something like it. The bill
would cap drug copays and deductibles at $2,000 a year for Medicare recipients.
And it would use about $360 billion of its projected 10-year savings from lower
drug costs to create new Medicare coverage for dental care, hearing, and vision
--- filling major gaps for seniors.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said the bill channels Trump's oft-expressed
disdain for pharmaceutical industry pricing policies. "President Trump put it
in a blunt way: we're being suckers," said Welch.
"I've watched the president over the last couple of years and I think he
goes back and forth," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who as chairman of the
Energy and Commerce Committee helped write the legislation. "We're hopeful he
will come back."
Republicans are rolling their eyes.
Pallone's committee counterpart, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore,, has dubbed the
legislation the "Pelosi Price Control Pipe Dream."
Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means
Committee, says the bill has "zero chance" of becoming law. "Its consideration
this week adds weight to a very unproductive year in Congress," Brady said.
The pharmaceutical industry is strongly opposed to the bill, but groups
including the AARP are supporting it.
A major concern about the legislation is that it will result in fewer drugs
coming to market. But there's debate about the extent. The nonpartisan
Congressional Budget Office estimates about 3% to 10% fewer new drugs, while
the White House Council of Economic Advisers says it could be much higher, up
to one-third of new medications.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who helped write the Pelosi bill, says Republicans
predicting the drug pipeline will dry up are using scare tactics.
"Any drug that's out there, we're going to have access to," said Scott. "The
U.S. would still be the biggest market."
Although high prescription drug prices consistently register in polls as the
public's top health care concern, it's unclear in a capital divided over
Trump's impeachment that any major legislation will pass before next year's
There's a bipartisan Senate bill that would also cap seniors' out-of-pocket
costs --- at $3,100 a year--- and require drugmakers to pay Medicare rebates if
they hike prices above inflation. It has Trump's support but Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hasn't said if or when he'll bring it to the
Inflation rebates are included in Pelosi's bill as well, so there is
considerable overlap between the two major pieces of legislation before
lawmakers. But Pelosi goes further with several unique features, including:
--- Medicare would be authorized to negotiate prices for costly medications,
using a formula based on lower prices paid in other economically advanced
--- Drugmakers who refuse to negotiate would be hit with steep sales taxes
for the medication at issue. Republicans say proposed taxes as high as 95% are
unconstitutional. The budget office projects that most pharmaceutical companies
would opt to accept lower prices from Medicare.
--- Private health insurance plans would be able to receive Medicare's
--- Congressional budget experts estimate the price negotiations provisions
of Pelosi's bill would save $456 billion over 10 years. After subtracting for
new Medicare dental, hearing and vision coverage, that still leaves money to
increase spending on medical research, community health centers, and countering
the opioid epidemic.
Democrats have named the drug legislation after the late Rep. Elijah
Cummings, D-Md., who early on sought to open a discussion with Trump on drug
prices. Cummings as oversight committee chairman was a target of Trump
outbursts on Twitter.