Keep on Movin' Don't Stop on Drug Prices
By Colleen Kenny LaRocque, Prescription Justice Board Member
In his address to Congress last week, President Biden promised to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs. Yet despite the encouraging rhetoric, he notably left prescription drug prices out of his latest legislative proposals in the American Families Plan.
It's disappointing, especially considering Biden campaigned very hard on drug price reform and that just four weeks earlier, his chief of staff Ron Klain had indicated that drug price reform would be in the plan. While it's terrific we have finally achieved a broad consensus about the need for Medicare to negotiate drug prices, the complex maneuvering required to get fundamental reforms and substantive action passed continues to confound.
Drug price reform has been a winning topic for Democrats in recent election cycles. Bringing down drug prices could be particularly helpful ahead of the next midterms, said Robert Blendon, a Harvard professor of health policy and political analysis, in an interview with Abby Abrams, staff writer for Time. "If Biden isn't prioritizing that, "it must be because there are one or two votes in the Senate who have an interest that's more worried about the pharmaceutical industry than what it's going to look like in the 2022 election," he said.
What remains unknown is whether congressional Democrats will embrace the President's proposal as is or try to amend it to include drug price reform. On April 22, 2021, House Democrats released an updated version of re-introduced the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3). Prescription Justice, of course, vigorously supports the reintroduction of this comprehensive legislation.
In a joint press release, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Congressman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) noted that the Act could reduce the price of certain drugs by up to 55 percent. Advocates like Alex Lawson of Social Security Works believe that lawmakers can include measures like those introduced in HR3 into the American Families Plan. "We have a container that can fit what we want in there," Lawson said.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) clarified that he agrees with Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (D-VT) on the need to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies. But Sen. Schumer, whose Prescription Drug Report Card leaves much room for improvement, stopped short of promising to add drug pricing and Medicare changes into the President's spending package once it gets to Congress.
And as Rachel Cohrs recently highlighted in Stat News, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) is starting to work on an ambitious new drug pricing package with the arduous task of getting unanimous support among Democrats. If Democrats cannot get drug price reform through while it has complete - albeit razor-thin - control of the government, when can it? Bottom line: Democratic lawmakers must band together to get their colleagues on board and lower the cost of prescription drugs ASAP. Don't stop til it's done!