Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to introduce the College Affordability Act, an overhaul of higher education system, on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
The legislation, which passed three committees along partisan lines, has a high chance of approval in the House, where Democrats control the chamber with 234 seats versus 197 held by Republicans. The Education and Labor Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee made few changes to the bill last week, despite Republican members expressing concerns that the legislation was rushed and dead on arrival in the Senate.
Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, criticized Pelosi’s plan, saying it was highly partisan, secretly written and has no chance of becoming law.
Pelosi’s bill will ensure a “loss [of] live-saving cures, lost jobs and a nation that will no longer lead the world in medical innovation,” the congressman from Texas said before the committee’s more than 12-hour long markup Tuesday. “This is a dangerous bill with long-term consequences and it doesn’t have to be that way.”
House Republicans have been quick to cite a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released earlier this month that said Pelosi’s drug pricing plan would lead to a reduction of eight to 15 new drugs coming to the market over 10 years.
However, the preliminary analysis also showed Pelosi’s plan would save Medicare $345 billion over the decade, with the largest savings coming from the provision that would permit the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices on the costliest drugs each year.
In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking Democrat Ron Wyden, of Oregon, have introduced their own bipartisan drug price bill that would make changes to Medicare by adding an out-of-pocket maximum for beneficiaries and capping drug price increases at the rate of inflation, among other measures.
That plan, which would not allow Medicare to negotiate prices, was backed by President Donald Trump and has been described by lawmakers as a “middle ground” approach to handling drug prices.
Industry trade group PhRMA, short for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, opposes both Pelosi’s and Grassley’s plans. The group says the measures would restrict access to innovative medicines and fail to provide meaningful relief to seniors at the pharmacy counter.
High prescription drug costs have become a rare bipartisan issue, as health care remains a top issue for voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Congress and the Trump administration are trying to pass legislation before the end of the year that would bring more transparency to health-care costs and, ultimately, lower costs for consumers.
Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders had been working on the plan for months. Pelosi has plowed ahead on her bill to lower drug prices despite a falling-out with Trump over the impeachment inquiry.