Trump, Dems Look for Common Ground on Drug Prices

Democrats pitch bill that lets HHS secretary handle price negotiations

For years, congressional Democrats have tried to pass legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices for millions of beneficiaries. Now they may have a surprising new ally: President Donald Trump.

U.S. Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) and Peter Welch (D-Vermont) met privately for about an hour with Trump and newly appointed Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price to discuss ways to combat high drug prices, according to Kaiser Health News. The congressmen pitched a House bill that would expand the federal government’s ability to negotiate drug prices, and they left feeling optimistic about what Trump will do.

“He made it clear to us that he wanted to do something,” Cummings said, characterizing Trump as “aware of the problem” and “enthusiastic.” Cummings is ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Cummings and Welch added that they finally have a president who “gets it.”

The lawmakers said they handed Trump and Price a bill to review and make comments. Cummings said he hopes to file the bill in two weeks.

A summary posted on the House committee website said the HHS secretary would be able to negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers under Medicare Part D, which provides coverage for prescription drugs bought at pharmacies.

The proposal would direct the HHS secretary to establish a formulary of allowed drugs, which would be used to “leverage” the government’s purchasing power.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and president of the American Action Forum, said the idea of lowering prices through Medicare Part D negotiations is “completely unrealistic.”

He pointed out that insurers are already used to managing health care for beneficiaries, and there are formularies in those plans. Adding into the law that the HHS secretary should be part of the negotiations merely adds a “bully pulpit,” he said.

In the same vein, Holly Campbell of the powerful lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report that said the HHS would not be able to negotiate drug prices that are lower than those that already exist.

Source: Kaiser Health News; March 9, 2017.