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House of Representatives Passes Bill Allowing Medicare to Negotiate For Lower Drug Prices

Yesterday, on Thursday, December 12th, the House of Representatives passed HR 3, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bill to lower prescription drug prices by giving Medicare the power to negotiate with drug companies.

The bill passed by 230 to 192 along with party lines, with almost all Democrats supporting the proposal and almost all Republicans opposing it. Americans overwhelmingly support congressional action to reduce drug costs. President Trump initially seemed supportive of Medicare negotiations but recently said he would veto the bill, and it is unlikely to advance very far in the Senate. But Sheryl Stolberg of the New York Times reported that "its passage could pressure Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, to take up a bipartisan drug-price measure pending there, or press senators to act on other bills."

HR 3, formally titled the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, gives the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs Medicare, the power to negotiate the prices of up to 250 of the most commonly used prescription drugs, including insulin. With 44 million beneficiaries, Medicare has enormous bargaining power. Drug companies will also have to offer these prices to private insurers, so it won't be limited just to Medicare. And if drug companies increase the prices of their drugs faster than the rate of inflation, they will have to pay rebates back to Medicare.

The bill has other good provisions. It creates new vision, dental and hearing benefits and caps out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare enrollees at $2,000. While HR 3 could be stronger, it is an excellent proposal that would lower drug prices for the vast majority of Americans.

Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have their own bill that was approved by the Senate Finance Committee. It is not as strong, but it also places a limit on out-of-pocket expenses and requires drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare should they raise drug prices faster than the inflation. However most Senate Republicans have shied away from supporting this bill.

Rep. Frank Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said, "The American people are fed up with paying three, four or 10 times more than people in other countries for the exact same drug." He urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up HR 3 as soon as possible: "We cannot afford to wait."

We thank the House of Representatives for passing this bill. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices and save money for both consumers and taxpayers is common sense. The Senate should move to consider the bill and pass it as soon as possible.

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