Obamacare fans press Biden to OK controversial price negotiation

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Liberal healthcare advocates have mounted pressure on the Biden administration to approve the Democrats’ controversial plan allowing the government to negotiate drug prices, a multimillion-dollar effort meant to counterattack the pharmaceutical industry.

“We think that there’s a huge opportunity to make real change on prescription drugs this year,” said Anne Shoup, communications director for Protect Our Care, a left-leaning healthcare advocacy group that defends Obamacare.

Protect Our Care launched the seven-figure media blitz earlier this month, touting Democrats’ proposal in the bill H.R. 3, which would grant the Department of Health and Human Services the power to negotiate with drugmakers directly for lower prices of up to 250 prescription medications. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have pursued the policy unsuccessfully for years, facing off against the massive lobbying arm of the pharmaceutical industry, PhRMA.

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Indeed, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $306 million on lobbying efforts in 2020, more than any other industry that year. By comparison, the insurance industry spent about $152 million on lobbying efforts during that time.

“We know that there’s an uphill battle in the fact that PhRMA is going so hard on this and they’re giving money to groups to do an ad blitz, and we’re just pushing back on that misinformation and making people see the benefits of passing this bill,” Shoup said.

PhRMA, meanwhile, told the Washington Examiner that Protect Our Care “is promoting draconian policies that would undermine the very care they claim to protect.”

“We agree that patients are paying too much for their medicines at the pharmacy. The status quo is not working, and we’re willing to come to the table and be a part of the solution,” said PhRMA Public Affairs spokeswoman Sarah Sutton. “That is why we have offered commonsense changes that both make medicines more affordable and protects our ability to continue developing new cures and treatments.” 

If enacted, the policy would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices for some of the costliest prescription drugs as part of Medicare, the government healthcare program for seniors. They would do this by considering how much it costs to develop the drugs and how much six other high-income countries — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom — pay for them.

“President Biden did mention in his joint address to Congress… giving Medicare the power to negotiate, so we think he has signaled that he’s serious about this, even though it’s not in the current infrastructure plan,” Shoup said. “That’s the big-ticket item that we really want to be in there.”

Democrats in Congress are pressuring President Joe Biden to approve the negotiating power as a means to pay for an expansion of Medicare to cover more people and more services such as vision and dental coverage. Democrats led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a progressive from Washington state, are calling for President Joe Biden to include expanded Medicare benefits as part of the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, the infrastructure package meant to bolster the social safety net.

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Right-leaning health policy experts have argued that matching U.S. drug spending targets with those of other countries would deprive pharmaceutical companies of the incentive to create more expensive treatments and cures.

“It’s not a question of [whether the U.S. will have] access to a new drug, but whether a new drug actually exists,” said Doug Badger, a public health policy expert at the Heritage Foundation. “What does it mean if one fewer new drug or 30 or 100 don’t come on the market… and I would again return to the example of COVID-19.”

“Where would we be as a society today if we were still relying on what public health people call non-pharmaceutical interventions?” he added. “Masks, lockdowns, social distancing as our primary weapon against COVID-19.”

Instead, Badger advocated for a proposal by House Republicans in the Lower Costs, More Cures Act introduced last month, which would place an out-of-pocket cost cap for seniors on Medicare’s Part D prescription drug program.

Still, capping seniors’ out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions neglects to address the root of the problem, Shoup said.

“It’s not the [main] reason that people’s prescription drug prices are high, let’s be clear,” she said. “So anything that only tackles that and claims it’s the solution is no solution at all.”

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