White House ramps up push for drug cost leg­is­la­tion

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ri­cardo Alonso-Zal­divar As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON >> The White House is ramp­ing up its push to get a bill through Congress that curbs pre­scrip­tion drug costs, feel­ing a new ur­gency as the im­peach­ment investigat­ion ad­vances amid the 2020 elec­tion cam­paign.

The ef­fort has pro­gressed be­yond any­thing seen in years, says Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s top do­mes­tic pol­icy ad­viser. “This is a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion op­por­tu­nity to con­front th­ese is­sues in a non­ide­o­log­i­cal fash­ion,” ad­viser Joe Gro­gan said in a re­cent ses­sion with re­porters.

“Un­for­tu­nately,” Gro­gan ex­plained, “there are some cur­rent com­pli­ca­tions.”

After months of di­a­logue, the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have parted ways on Medi­care price ne­go­ti­a­tions that Pelosi ad­vo­cates and Trump — un­like most Repub­li­cans — once sup­ported in prin­ci­ple.

In­stead Trump is back­ing a com­pro­mise bi­par­ti­san bill in

the Se­nate, which does not give Medi­care bar­gain­ing au­thor­ity, but forces drug­mak­ers to pay re­bates if they raise prices too high.

Gro­gan said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is work­ing to line up Repub­li­can sup­port for the Se­nate bill while try­ing to sweeten its im­pact by plow­ing more of the gov­ern­ment’s sav­ings from re­duced drug prices into ben­e­fits for se­niors.

“We’re re­ally at a stage on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis of dial­ing in on the fi­nal specifics,” he said at a re­cent event spon­sored by the Al­liance for Health Pol­icy.

The pres­sure is on Trump.

A Gallup-West Health poll finds that 66 per­cent of adults don’t be­lieve the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has made any progress, or very much progress, in lim­it­ing the ris­ing cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs.

“If I were the pres­i­dent of the United States, fac­ing a very dif­fi­cult re­elec­tion cam­paign, I would want to have some­thing to show peo­ple in this area,” said po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Bill Gal­ston of the Brookings


Democrats “will be very re­luc­tant to give the ad­min­is­tra­tion a win,” he added. “If they are go­ing to do that, they are go­ing to need some­thing pretty solid and sub­stan­tive to show their troops.”

Peo­ple in the pol­icy de­bate say a deal must be sealed this year or by early next at the very lat­est, before elec­tion sea­son goes into over­drive.

Medi­care en­rollees would be the big­gest win­ners un­der ei­ther bill.

The bi­par­ti­san Se­nate leg­is­la­tion would cap what Medi­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries pay out of pocket for medicines and re­quire drug­mak­ers to pay re­bates to Medi­care if they hike prices above the in­fla­tion rate. Its lead au­thors are Sens. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wy­den, D-Ore.

But Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., has made no public com­mit­ment to bring it to the floor.

The more am­bi­tious House Demo­cratic bill would build on the Se­nate’s foun­da­tion but also au­tho­rize Medi­care to ne­go­ti­ate prices for the costli­est drugs. That would limit high launch prices for new drugs, not just price in­creases. Medi­care’s dis­counts would be pro­vided to pri­vately in­sured peo­ple as well.

Pelosi is driv­ing to­ward a floor vote, but right now nei­ther bill has a clear path to Trump’s desk.

Some Democrats con­tend they’d be bet­ter off tak­ing Pelosi’s bill into the elec­tion cam­paign rather than giv­ing Trump a bi­par­ti­san bill he’d claim credit for.

But Colorado Sen. Michael Ben­net, a 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, says his party should think care­fully before go­ing to the vot­ers empty-handed.

“I think it’s crit­i­cally im­por­tant for the coun­try for us to get a bill done — a drug-pric­ing bill is long over­due,” said Ben­net.

“It’s al­ways bet­ter to get a re­sult,” he added. “And if we don’t get a re­sult, we need to draw the lines very clearly, so peo­ple can see it’s the ad­min­is­tra­tion that pre­vented us from get­ting a re­sult.”

Ben­net is back­ing the Se­nate com­pro­mise and also pur­su­ing his own leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing Medi­care to ne­go­ti­ate drug prices.

Most pro-busi­ness Repub­li­cans see gov­ern­ment-ne­go­ti­ated drug prices as un­ac­cept­able in­ter­fer­ence in the pri­vate mar­ket. But not Trump.

In 2016, he cam­paigned on giv­ing Medi­care the power to ne­go­ti­ate. Pelosi’s bill is a not-so-gen­tle re­minder to Trump the 2020 can­di­date of his po­lit­i­cally pop­u­lar 2016 promise.

“House Democrats are tak­ing the bold ac­tion to ne­go­ti­ate lower drug prices that Pres­i­dent Trump al­ways claimed was neces-

sary and work­ing peo­ple won’t like it if he sells them out on one of the most im­por­tant kitchen ta­ble is­sues in Amer­ica right now,” said Pelosi spokesman Henry Con­nelly.

With weeks un­til the end of the year, im­peach­ment is drain­ing the po­lit­i­cal en­ergy in Wash­ing­ton. If noth­ing hap­pens, the clear­est win­ner will be the drug in­dus­try lobby, which has poured mil­lions of dol­lars into a fight seen as an ex­is­ten­tial threat to its po­lit­i­cal inf lu­ence.

“We think it’s go­ing to be very hard,” said Fred­eric Isasi, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Fam­i­lies USA, a lib­eral ad­vo­cacy group call­ing for ac­tion this year. “It would be com­pletely short-sighted for peo­ple not to de­liver what can be done now for Amer­i­can fam­i­lies.”


In this June 15, 2018, file photo, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals are seen in North An­dover, Mass.

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