By Peter Sullivan
A draft plan to lower drug prices from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate on 250 drugs per year, according to a summary circulating on Capitol Hill and among lobbyists and obtained by The Hill.
The summary of the House Democrats’ signature plan to lower drug prices, one of their top priorities this year, is a bolder proposal than many expected.
It says that the prices negotiated by the HHS secretary would apply to the private market as well, not just Medicare, as Democrats often call for. There would also be a steep penalty for drug companies that refused to negotiate with HHS: a fee of 75 percent of the gross sales of the drug in question from the previous year.
It’s not clear what, if any changes, have been made since the draft was created or what will be altered before the proposal is formally introduced.
“The document is an out-of-date draft. Nothing is being distributed to the caucus yet because the committees are still discussing,” said a senior Democratic aide.
Henry Connelly, a Pelosi spokesman, said the speaker’s office continues “to engage members across the caucus as the committees of jurisdiction work to develop the boldest, toughest possible bill to lower prescription drug prices for all Americans.” Progressive Democrats have for months pressed Pelosi to be bolder in the drug pricing proposal and have complained that they have been shut out of the process.
The reaction from the progressive wing of the party will be a key area to watch, as will the reaction from the White House. Pelosi’s office hopes support from President Trump, who previously touted drug price negotiation before backing off the idea, will help get the measure through Republicans in Congress, who traditionally oppose allowing the government to negotiate drug prices.
Significantly, the plan appears to drop Pelosi’s previous idea to use an outside arbiter to help set the price of the drug, an idea that had provoked ire from progressives who worried it was cumbersome and too weak a mechanism.
Some progressives reacted favorably to the outline circulating Monday, though they cautioned that the official release will be key to watch.
The measure also incorporates an idea that Trump has proposed, tying drug prices to the lower prices paid in other countries, in what could be a bid for his support. The House plan would set a ceiling in the negotiations based on the price paid for the drug in other countries.
Pelosi’s office previously said the plan would be unveiled in September, though the exact timing of a formal release remains unclear.
While the House is expected to pass the proposal, it will be very hard to get through the GOP-controlled Senate, even if Trump does get on board.
Many observers expect any drug pricing provisions will have to be attached to a larger government funding deal at the end of the year.