Virtually ignored in the impeachment haze, the U.S. House has passed common-sense legislation that finally would give the federal government the power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies for Medicare patients. Yet President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill, and the Senate is expected to ignore it. The rising cost of prescription drugs is a key issue nationwide, and at least the House’s action should put pressure on the Senate to pursue its own solution.
It’s difficult to fathom why allowing Medicare to negotiate for better drug prices is a partisan issue. Trump campaigned on the issue in 2016. Yet the legislation passed the House last week along partisan lines, with every Democrat voting for it and all but two Republicans opposing it.
There are plenty of good provisions in the House bill that would benefit Medicare recipients beyond allowing the government to negotiate for better prices for up to 250 commonly used drugs. For example, there would be a new limit on out-of-pocket drug costs of $2,000. Drug manufacturers also would be required to pay rebates back to Medicare if drug prices rise faster than inflation. But the legislation also would benefit everyone else, because it would require drugmakers to offer the negotiated Medicare price to private insurers.
What would be the practical impact? The House legislation is projected to lower the average cost of the breast cancer medication Ibrance by 65%, from $69,000 to $23,900 per year. The House legislation is projected to lower the cost of most arthritis drugs from about $40,000 a year to $10,000 a year. That’s real money.
The Republican-controlled Senate is where good legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled House goes to die, regardless of whether it is reforming campaign finance laws, raising the minimum wage or banning offshore drilling. The least Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should do is start moving a bipartisan Senate bill that includes provisions in the House legislation such as a limit on out-of-pocket expenses on prescription drugs for Medicare recipients and the rebate requirements for drug companies. The Senate bill unfortunately does not include the key provision that would allow the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices, but that could be an issue to negotiate later.
The high cost of prescription drugs affects everyone, and it should not be a partisan issue. Now that the U.S. House has passed its legislation, the Senate should take up the issue and work toward a compromise that both Republicans and Democrats can embrace.