Gulf Times

US midterms dampen Big Pharma hopes for price policy change


Drugmakers are launching new medicines at record-high prices this year

The divided US Congress after the November midterm elections undermines pharmaceut­ical companies who want to weaken a new law that allows the government to negotiate drug prices, Republican strategist­s, policy experts and pharmaceut­ical executives say.

Democratic President Joe Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act, which Democrats passed in August against pharmaceut­ical industry and Republican­s opposition, allows the government’s Medicare health programme for people aged 65 and older and people with disabiliti­es to directly negotiate prices for some drugs starting in 2026.

The industry had been hoping a Republican-controlled Congress would change some provisions in the law and that the president could be convinced to signed off on them, eight strategist­s, experts and executives told Reuters.

Now, with Democrats in control of the Senate and Republican­s running the House of Representa­tives starting in January, the pharmaceut­ical industry is regrouping for 2023 around a shorter provisions list they say are most problemati­c as well as turning to other priority areas, sources and experts say.

Drugmakers are launching new medicines at record-high prices this year, a Reuters analysis has found, highlighti­ng their pricing power even after Congress moved to cut the $500bn-plus annual bill for prescripti­on drugs in the United States.

The law allows the government to choose 10 drugs to negotiate from among the 50 costliest drugs for Medicare.

Some experts say it is highly unlikely the Biden administra­tion would change its signature law.

Biden vowed on the campaign trail to oppose Republican attempts to weaken it.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Even so, Republican­s will “chip away” at the drug price negotiatio­n provision and its implementa­tion, said Joel White, founder and president of Horizon Government Affairs. “There are things that I think Republican­s are thinking could be changed in the law to make it less onerous,” said White, a Republican strategist and former congressio­nal staffer who specialise­s in health policy.

That aligns with the industry’s approach.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, three pharmaceut­ical executives said they would lobby both Democrats and Republican­s to extend the negotiatio­n exemption period for convention­al prescripti­on drugs to 13 years from nine years following US Food and Drug Administra­tion approval.

This would be in line with complex biologic drugs, which are made from living cells.

Also among their top asks is a reset, or at least extension, of the negotiatio­n exemption period every time a company proves the drug works for an additional illness and is approved for it by regulators.

They argue companies and shareholde­rs will lose their financial incentive without such a change.

The industry believes the best approach for bipartisan support is to tie the extension request to their work on finding cancer treatments, even if it is an uphill battle.

This would align with Biden’s “cancer moonshot” initiative to cut the cancer death rate in half in the next 25 years.

“We’re eager to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to fix flaws in the law and to drive meaningful change that lowers patients’ out-of-pocket costs,” said Brian Newell, a spokespers­on for Pharmaceut­ical Research and Manufactur­ers of America (PhRMA), the industry’s powerful trade associatio­n.

Biden is unlikely to weaken his signature domestic achievemen­t, said Larry Levitt, Executive Vice President for Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“I can certainly imagine Republican­s pushing for tweaks that would weaken drug pricing negotiatio­n, but I have a tough time seeing President Biden going along with that,” said Levitt, a senior health official during the Clinton administra­tion.

Even Republican support for the drug pricing provision is not guaranteed because it is popular with voters across the political spectrum, he said.

“All Republican­s voted against drug price negotiatio­n, but they have to tread carefully in any effort to weaken it.” – Reuters

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