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Republican Voters Support Medicare Drug Price Negotiations, Too

Posted at 3:53 PM on May 9, 2021

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GL Headshot Online Feb 22 2018.jpgBy Gabriel Levitt, Prescription Justice Board of Directors Chairman

The talk of the drug price town is H.R. 3. To be or not to be, that is the question. We say yes. Prescription Justice strongly supports H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2021. It’s the same bill that was introduced in 2019, which passed along vigorously partisan lines 230-192. No Democrats voted against it and only two Republicans voted for it, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA). Its provisions are sufficient to end the crisis of high drug prices in America. That bill was expected to be stopped in its tracks and was by then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). 

Two hearings on drug prices in the House this past week addressed the bill: one in the Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health and the other in the Education and Labor Committee Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Feel free to follow those links to watch them.

If we are truly a bipartisan organization, then how could we support what many Republican members of Congress consider to be a highly partisan piece of legislation? The answer is simple. First, while there are several policies to lower drug prices and cap out-of-pocket expenses called for under H.R. 3, the largest sticking point is allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which is currently banned under federal law. Our position is clear: an overwhelming majority (80%) of Republican voters do support Medicare drug price negotiations. Since 90% of Democratic voters support it as well, the discussion on whether it’s bi-partisan or not is over. 

Prescription Justice Board Member Colleen Kenny LaRocque  explains the Dems’ position beautifully in  Keep on Movin' Don't Stop on Drug Prices. We’re kind of bummed that President Biden is leaving drug prices out of the American Families Plan. Then again, we’re psyched that he was unequivocal in his support for Medicare drug price negotiations. There will be further attempts at bi-partisanship, such as by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and perhaps he’ll find a Republican, such as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in the Finance Committee to work with. But if that all fails, the Democrats must carry the ball for Americans across the finish line. 

What scares me is bringing toxic political rhetoric into this deliberation because its intention is to try to undermine unity among Americans on drug prices. I’m sorry to say that Ranking Member of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Rick Allen (R-GA) did just that in his submitted opening remarks. He refers to H.R. 3 as “Democrats' socialist health care scheme.” He also states: “Rather than promote partisan socialist policies such as H.R. 3, I urge my colleagues to work together on finding a bipartisan solution to lowering drug costs, like the common-sense provisions included in H.R. 19."

Prescription Justice President Lindsay Brown, who usually covers  the Republican politics of drug prices, this week chose to recount her own nightmare with medical product prices. Lindsay is a new mother. This past year her newborn was prescribed a medical food, EleCare. Initially, Lindsay’s health insurance covered it with a reasonable co-pay. Then her insurance changed, and it was no longer covered. Lindsay and her husband faced a $933/month bill to make sure their baby got the food she needs. Lindsay ran as a Republican in the NJ-7 primary in 2018. She wants to get Republican members on board with H.R. 3. And you can bet there are millions of Republicans across the country stuck in far worse positions because of drug prices and they want drug price negotiations, too. 

If my partisan leanings showed through just now, let me reign them in. I did not like the “socialist” healthcare label wielded by Rep. Allen. However, he did bring up H.R. 19, Lower Costs, More Cures Act of 2021. H.R. 19 contains provisions that many Democrats agree with, notably capping out-of-pocket drug costs in Medicare and ending “pay for delay” deals, in which brand name drug companies pay off generic manufacturers to delay introducing a lower cost drug. 

I’m not saying that the Democrats should give up on Medicare drug price negotiations at all. I’m saying they should also not give up on negotiating with Republicans. Commend them on those parts of H.R. 19 that are worthy and equally insist they just don’t go far enough. Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) explained this on the House floor back in 2019, saying that H.R. 19 “doesn’t tackle the fundamental problem, which is reducing drug prices.” Essentially, to reduce drug prices, we’re going to have to take on Big Pharma. Will the Republican members join their colleagues across the aisle to do that? That’s what their voters want!

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