President Trump lauded the rollout of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's drug pricing plan yesterday without endorsing it.
Now the question is whether the president, Pelosi and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell can find enough common ground for a grand deal by the end of the year aimed at lowering the prices of prescription drugs. There's overlap among what the House, Senate and White House envision -- and that's where where lawmakers could reach a bipartisan agreement.
Trump seemed eager for movement on the Hill, also praising another bipartisan drug pricing plan written by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (Ore.):
Because of my Administration, drug prices are down for the first time in almost 50 years — but the American people need Congress to help. I like Sen. Grassley’s drug pricing bill very much, and it’s great to see Speaker Pelosi’s bill today. Let’s get it done in a bipartisan way!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2019
Capitol Hill was abuzz as lawmakers, patient advocates and the health-care industry responded to the speaker’s plan, which would allow the federal government to negotiate the prices of at least 25 and perhaps as many as 250 brand-name drugs in Medicare. Top House committees plan to hold hearings on the measure over the next few weeks, with a goal of an eventual vote in the whole Democratic-led House later this fall.
Larry Levitt, Kaiser Family Foundation executive vice president for health policy:
There are still big questions about the scope of Speaker Pelosi's drug plan, but what shouldn't get lost is how far-reaching the plan is.— Larry Levitt (@larry_levitt) September 19, 2019
Federal negotiation of drug prices for everyone, capped at what other countries pay.
Limiting price increases in Medicare to inflation.
Politico's Dan Diamond:
(Pelosi and Democrats put out their drug-price plan two hours ago.) https://t.co/J7qvApUlVX— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) September 19, 2019
Rachel Sachs, law professor at Washington University:
Speaker Pelosi's drug pricing package is finally out. If enacted, it would completely reform our drug pricing and reimbursement system. I will have lengthier thoughts later, but a few things for now. https://t.co/TNuQVy6QAw 1/6— Rachel Sachs (@RESachs) September 19, 2019
Pelosi angered progressives by toning it down from an earlier draft, which would have made 250 drugs the floor instead of the ceiling. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, appeared critical of the limits set for how many drugs could be negotiated.
“We still are watching a few things,” Pocan told my Washington Post colleague Yasmeen Abutaleb. “You can have everything great in the world, but if you have a few handfuls of drugs negotiated then it’s not going to look the same to the public as something more substantive.”
Via The Hill's Peter Sullivan:
For the progressives:— Peter Sullivan (@PeterSullivan4) September 19, 2019
Pelosi says she's open to increasing the floor from 25 drugs being negotiated, calls it an "open point."
Her concern is the "absorptive capacity of the Secretary's office" to operationalize it
This is big issue for progressiveshttps://t.co/5Y0iGsZF0m
On the other end of the political spectrum, Pelosi’s plan was swiftly condemned by Republicans and pharmaceutical companies, who aired their usual message that such negotiations amount to government price-fixing. Even before Pelosi held a news conference announcing her plan, all two dozen of the House Energy and Commerce’s Republicans issued a joint statement criticizing it.
McConnell, who would play a key role in any final agreement, called the Pelosi bill a non-starter.
“Socialist price controls will do a lot of left-wing damage to the health-care system,” McConnell said yesterday afternoon. “And of course we're not going to be calling up a bill like that.”
House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans:
All 2️⃣4️⃣ E&C Republicans criticize @SpeakerPelosi for putting "Politics over Progress" and call for bipartisan solutions to bring down drug prices for patients. Full statement ⤵️ https://t.co/ki1yKwgclc pic.twitter.com/3tCh1lhJ8N— Energy & Commerce GOP (@HouseCommerce) September 19, 2019
Instead of working across the aisle, Speaker Pelosi's partisan prescription drug plan would lead to higher prices and fewer cures, all while laying the groundwork for their socialist health care agenda.— House Republicans (@HouseGOP) September 19, 2019
→ https://t.co/1jwrRAFJAH pic.twitter.com/ILG7MPpiNv
Bloomberg Law's Jacquie Lee shares the reaction from PhRMA:
INBOX: @PhRMA's statement re: Pelosi's drug plan— Jacquie Lee (@_jacquie_lee) September 19, 2019
"We do not need to blow up the current system to make medicines more affordable. Instead, policymakers should pursue practical policy solutions..." full statement below pic.twitter.com/YjkOQvGoX1
Meanwhile, America's Health Insurance Plans neither endorsed nor condemned the plan, Bloomberg News's Alex Ruoff notes:
AHIP has a very middle-ground comment on Pelosi's drug pricing bill. They call it "bold" and praise the out-of-pocket and targeting list prices, but hold back on endorsing. pic.twitter.com/BFtBVCca5B— Alex Ruoff (@Alexruoff) September 19, 2019
But at this point the reactions are political kabuki, because the parties still share strong aspirations to reach a deal. And there’s reason to believe it could still happen.
If you look at the bipartisan Senate bill co-written by Grassley and Wyden, there’s plenty of overlap with the Pelosi proposal. Both measures would cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors in the traditional Medicare program and would require rebates from drug companies who raise drug prices faster than inflation.
Both the House plan and a proposal last fall from the Trump administration would draw from lower prescription drug prices in other developed countries. Pelosi is proposing to set a maximum price on negotiated drugs, based on an average of prices paid by six other countries. The administration says it’s working on a proposal to base the price of some Medicare drugs on an average of prices paid in 16 other countries.
Rodney Whitlock, former health policy staffer for Grassley:
As drug pricing policy goes, you can see the opportunity for policy agreement. Political agreement is a totally different conversation. pic.twitter.com/dQurI5fbwy— Rodney L. Whitlock (@RodneyLWhitlock) September 19, 2019
And while Trump says he backs the bill by Grassley and Wyden which notably wouldn’t allow the government to directly negotiate lower prices, the White House has privately told Democrats it’s open to the idea.
“Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and White House domestic policy director Joe Grogan met with a group of moderate House Democrats last week to discuss drug pricing measures,” Yasmeen reported. “They told the group the White House is open to Medicare drug price negotiations but supported measures that could pass the Republican-controlled Senate.”
The administration held fire yesterday on Pelosi’s plan; a White House spokesman pointed to Trump's tweet when I asked for a response.
So the pieces are there for a year-end deal on drug pricing. The question is whether lawmakers will have enough political will to fit them all together.
AHH: The Trump administration has formally reversed its plan to cancel a legal protection allowing migrants facing life-threatening illnesses to stay in the United States while they get treatment. The Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee saying it would resume considering all so-called deferred action applications on a case-by-case basis.
The administration drew backlash when it said last month that it would eliminate protections for critically ill children and their families that allows them to avoid deportation while they receive treatment.
“If today’s statement is accurate, it appears that the Trump Administration is reversing its inhumane and disastrous decision to deport critically ill children and their families who are receiving life-saving medical treatment in the United States,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement.
“Last week, the Oversight Committee held a hearing on the policy, where children suffering from cystic fibrosis and other illnesses testified they could die if sent back to their home countries,” NBC’s Heidi Przybyla reports. “The committee was scheduled to hold an additional hearing on the matter next week, with testimony from Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the acting ICE Director Matthew Albence.”
OOF: Purdue Pharma wants to pay “certain employees” more than $34 million in bonuses for their work over the last three years, citing “highly coveted” skills of some employees working at a company that is going through troubled times. The legal filing asking a judge to authorize the bonuses comes even as Purdue is facing thousands of lawsuits and days after the company filed bankruptcy, our Post colleague Peter Whoriskey reports.
“It is not clear from the company filings why employees would be eligible for bonuses, because, while the bonuses are supposed to be partly contingent on the company’s financial performance, the company has filed for bankruptcy,” Peter writes. "At a bankruptcy court hearing in White Plains, N.Y., on Tuesday, Paul K. Schwartzberg, an attorney for the U.S. Trustee, raised objections to some of the bonuses. While it is typical for companies in bankruptcy to try to pay employees as a firm seeks to regain its financial footing, the Purdue Pharma bonuses go 'way beyond' what is typical, he said."
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement to The Post that the money should go to those affected by the opioid crisis.
“That $34 million is owed to the victims of the opioid epidemic, and every last cent should be spent on addiction science, treatment and recovery,” Tong said. “Purdue and the Sacklers still don’t seem to comprehend the pain and suffering they have caused. While I am sympathetic to the workers at Purdue, many of whom live in my hometown and state and had nothing to do with the egregious actions of their employer, this not business as usual.”
OUCH: The nationwide outbreak of vaping-related illnesses is growing. Federal officials announced there are now 530 individuals across 38 states that have been sickened by the disease, with all reported cases having a history of e-cigarette or vaping use, our Post colleague Lena H. Sun reports.
Officials are still not sure what’s been causing the illnesses, and health officials are warning anyone concerned to avoid using e-cigarette or vaping products.
“Initial data shows that most people had a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, that many people said they used both nicotine and THC, and that some reported using only nicotine products. Many people have also said they used black market or illicit THC products. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the high,” Lena writes.
Nearly 25% of high schoolers are vaping regularly. This is unacceptable. @SenJeffMerkley & I are teaming up on legislation that:— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) September 19, 2019
✔️Bans e-cigarettes from containing non-tobacco flavors
✔️Requires cartridges to be tamper-proof
✔️Applies existing tobacco excise tax to e-cigarettes pic.twitter.com/EfLYRPjPDI
— A bipartisan pair of senators have introduced a draft bill that includes a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and that would apply existing tobacco taxes to e-cigarettes.
“Called the Ending New Nicotine Dependencies, or ENND, Act, the legislation would ban e-cigarette flavors other than tobacco, specify e-cigarette design standards, monitor the public health risks of using tobacco products, apply existing cigarette taxes to e-cigarettes and direct the Department of Health and Human Services to educate the public about health implications of using e-cigarettes,” CNBC’s Angelica LaVito reports.
All flavored products, except tobacco, would be banned starting 90 days after the bill is enacted.
“Vaping companies have hooked millions of our children on nicotine using e-cigarette flavors like ‘gummy bear,’ ‘scooby snacks,’ and ‘strawberries and cream,’” Merkley said in a statement. “This means massive health consequences for the next generation, and we have to end this addiction crisis. We need to get these flavors off the market.”
— Late-night host Stephen Colbert gave Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) her latest chance to answer whether she would raise middle-class taxes to pay for Medicare-for-all. And Warren dodged again.
In the last presidental debate, Warren answered the question by insisting Medicare-for-all would overall lower costs for middle-class Americans. When she did the same with Colbert, the host pushed her on it, saying: “Isn’t Medicare-for-all like public school? There might be taxes for it, but you certainly save a lot of money on sending your kids to school, and do you want to live in a world where kids aren’t educated. Do you want to live in a world where your fellow citizens are dying, even if it costs a little bit of money.”
"It's valid for Warren to want to refocus the issue on total costs rather than just taxes,” The Post’s Aaron Blake writes. "This is why Warren supporters hate this question. They view it as an unfair attempt to give Republicans a talking point that ‘Elizabeth Warren is going to raise middle-class taxes!’ when, in fact, people’s total costs would go down.” Aaron adds it’s important to note studies show that while most people would pay less in such a system, it’s not necessarily consistent for all people.
At the same time, why not just level with people about it, as Colbert suggests? Warren's responses are opening her up to criticism from Democratic rivals. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said this on CNN: “Senator Warren is known for being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question, and we’ve seen that repeatedly.”
— And here are a few more good reads:
- The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy holds a hearing on the outbreak of lung disease on Sept. 24.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies holds a hearing on international food assistance programs at USDA and USAID on Sept. 25.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holds a hearing on e-cigarettes on Sept. 25.
Can a Kennedy unseat an incumbent senator in Massachusetts?: