Vulnerable House Democrats demand Medicare drug price power in reconciliation bill

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Fifteen House Democrats facing tough reelection contests next year are urging the party’s leaders to include a measure to lowering drug prices in the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package.

The push to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices sets up a fight with more moderate Democrats who worry it will hurt the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to develop new cures.

“Empowering Medicare in this way and making these negotiated prices available to the private sector will bring down the cost of prescription drugs not just for seniors, but also for individuals and families across America,” wrote the 15 Democrats in battleground districts.

“With public support of Medicare price negotiation of prescription drugs at nearly 90 percent, it is time to take action,” said the letter, organized by Rep. Susan Wild, Pennsylvania Democrat.

The drug-price plan also is a high priority for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Medicare would have strong leverage to set the prices because drug companies would face penalties if they do not accept the government’s offer.

Drug companies, which oppose the idea, would then be required to offer the same lower price to private insurance companies, lowering the cost to others.

A 2019 Congressional Budget Office report estimated that the lower prices would save Medicare $456 billion.

Democrats were already planning to include the idea in some fashion in the massive bill that they plan to ram through Congress without Republican support under a budget procedure called budget reconciliation.

The procedure avoids the 60-vote threshold required to pass most legislation in the Senate and instead allows passage of a spending and tax package with a simple 51-vote majority. The reconciliation bill is the best bet for Democrats to win big legislative goals in the chamber that split 50-50 between the parties and where Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote.

Still, passing the plan would also set the vulnerable Democrats up for attacks from the right and the drug industry. It would also further jeopardize Democrats’ quest to retain a House majority in the 2022 midterm elections.

The American Action Network, a conservative advocacy group with ties to the pharmaceutical industry, spent $5 million on television and digital ads earlier this year calling the proposal is socialist. The group also is delivering the message with phone calls to voters in 43 congressional districts represented by vulnerable Democrats.

“Under Pelosi’s socialist drug takeover plan, Washington controls the prescription drug market. That means fewer breakthrough cures and less innovation, like the COVID vaccine,” the calls said.

Meanwhile, a separate group of 10 centrist Democrats wrote Mrs. Pelosi in May concerned that forcing drug companies to charge less would reduce how much they can spend to develop new cures. While those Democrats stopped short of opposing the bill, the centrists led by Rep. Scott Peters of California, urged fellow Democrats to find a proposal that could win bipartisan support and stressed the importance of preserving American research.

At the time, Mr. Peters told The Washington Times that he was prepared to vote against the plan.

With House Democrats only able to suffer five defections to pass legislation in a party-line vote, either faction has the potential to kill the reconciliation bill.

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