The House Ways and Means Committee is the latest to pass H.R. 3, a bill aimed at driving the price of prescription drugs down.
During an Oct. 22, 2019, markup of the bill, Republican members criticized committee leadership for abandoning bipartisan efforts to reign in drug prices in favor of a partisan bill that so far gained no support from the minority party. H.R. 3 was passed by the Ways and Means Committee on a 24-17 party line vote.
Both “Democrats and Republicans support lowering drug prices, cracking down on overpriced drugs, giving patients more power to choose affordable medicines, and removing the wrong incentives in federal health programs that reward bad actors for raising prices,” Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) said in his opening statement. In fact, at the request of Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), “both parties in this committee were working together toward that important goal. At least until Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) trashed the bipartisan work and forced through a secretly written, deeply controversial, and highly partisan drug bill to cure political illnesses rather than real ones.”
, recently renamed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019, would give the secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services the ability to negotiate drug prices for Medicare Part D (something explicitly banned under current law), implement an excise tax on drugs that see price hikes above the rate of inflation, cap out-of-pocket expenditures annually for Medicare Part D beneficiaries at $2,000, and use an international pricing index to help bring prices for drugs sold in the United States more in line with the lower prices in foreign countries.
But panel Democrats praised the bill as a step forward in helping to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
“H.R. 3 levels the playing field for U.S. consumers who, on average, pay four times more than patients in other countries for the exact same drugs,” Chairman Neal said in a statement following the passage.
He highlighted specifically the provision that caps out-of-pocket expenses in Part D and the HHS’ negotiating power, noting that “more people will be able to afford the drugs they need that they may have previously forgone due to high costs. With more Americans taking the medicines they’re prescribed, families will be healthier, and premiums will go down.”
Republican committee members argued that these same provisions would stifle innovation and ultimately would reduce access to medicine. Most attempts at altering the provisions through amendments were met with strict party line rejection.