Pelosi unveils plan to lower drug prices

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to give the federal government the ability to negotiate and cap prices on hundreds of drugs.

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to give the federal government the ability to negotiate and cap prices on hundreds of drugs.

The speaker unveiled her long-awaited plan to lower drug prices on Thursday, seeking to show how Democrats would address a major health care concern of Americans ahead of the 2020 election.

Controlling the cost of drugs is a major priority for both parties in Congress, as well as President Donald Trump. They have all promised to take action, but little has been accomplished so far.

The House proposal would empower the Health & Human Services secretary to negotiate annually for the best prices on at least 25 of the most costly brand-name drugs without generic or lower-priced alternatives and up to 250 medications, including insulin. The plan would impact drug prices not just for Medicare enrollees but for all Americans.

It also calls for:

  • Setting a maximum price on negotiated drugs of 1.2 times the average price in six developed countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
  • Slapping penalties on drug makers who refuse to participate.
  • Forcing them to pay rebates if they raise prices more than the inflation rate.
  • Implementing a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries in Medicare Part D drug plans.
  • Reducing the amount the federal government pays in Part D and increasing the costs borne by insurers and drug manufacturers.

Although the President has also flirted with pegging the price of some drugs to their cost in other developed countries, it remains to be seen if he will back Pelosi’s proposal. It is not likely to get far in the Senate since Republicans have long opposed allowing the government to negotiate drug prices.

Already, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is trying to convince members of his party to support his plan to lower drug costs in Medicare, has come out against Pelosi’s proposals, a draft of which has circulated over the past week. His office last week circulated interviews he did in with various media outlets in which he described his proposals as moderate.

Pelosi may also face some pushback in her own party. She has been meeting with several caucuses this week to discuss her proposal.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus raised several concerns last week after the draft plan had leaked, including why the number of drugs subject to negotiation would be capped at 250 annually.

Members, however, said they were pleased that the speaker is backing negotiation, rather than arbitration, and that the plan would cover all Americans, not just those on Medicare. Both are priorities for the progressives.

The Energy & Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee will hold a hearing on the legislation next Wednesday.

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