WASHINGTON — The House, delivering on one of the Democrats’ central campaign promises, on Thursday passed ambitious legislation to lower the rising cost of prescription drugs by empowering the federal government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers.
The bill, known as H.R. 3 — a numerical designation that reflects its position on Democrats’ priority list — would make significant changes to the federal Medicare program, which provides health coverage to older Americans. It passed largely on party lines, 230-192, and includes provisions to create new vision, dental and hearing benefits and caps out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000.
Lowering the cost of prescription drugs is a huge priority for voters and politicians of both parties — including President Trump, who has made curbing the cost of prescription drugs a central theme of his 2020 re-election campaign.
Though Mr. Trump has vowed to veto the Democratic bill, its passage could put pressure on 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. Pharmaceutical makers strongly oppose both the House bill and a Senate bill drafted in the Finance Committee.
At another moment, House passage might have also jump-started negotiations with the White House, but that is unlikely given that Democrats are about to impeach the president.
The central — and most contentious — provision of the measure that passed Thursday is its language enabling the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Medicare, to negotiate the price of up to 250 commonly used drugs, including insulin. It would also require the manufacturers to offer the agreed-on prices to private insurers, giving it huge reach.
And it would require pharmaceutical manufacturers to pay rebates to Medicare if the price of their drugs increased faster than inflation — another provision loathed by drug makers.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Senators Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, does not contain those provisions. But like the House bill, it would cap out-of-pocket expenses and require drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if they raised prices faster than inflation.
House Republicans countered the Democrats’ bill with a more modest measure that excludes the Medicare negotiation provision. Mr. Trump campaigned in 2016 on allowing the government to negotiate drug prices, but Republicans argued that giving that power to the government would force pharmaceutical companies to eliminate research and development. That would deprive the public of lifesaving medicines.
“For an issue as crucial as lowering the cost of prescription drugs for Americans, partisanship should be set aside,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, said as he made his party’s closing argument for his bill. He warned that the Democrats’ bill was “opening the door to a government takeover of our prescription drug market.”
Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, who managed the bill for Republicans on the House floor, cited a Congressional Budget Office estimate showing that the measure would result in 40 fewer drugs over the next two decades.
Democrats say their bill addresses research and development concerns by allocating more than $10 billion to the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research, with the goal of advancing breakthrough cures.
Allowing Medicare to negotiate prices has been a long-sought goal of Democrats; because the insurance program buys drugs in bulk, it can effectively set the price for all insurers. It was a matter of intense debate in 2003, when the Republican-led Congress passed the bill creating Medicare Part D, which allows Medicare to pay for the cost of prescription drugs.
Since that time, the rising list prices of brand-name drugs, coupled with insurance plans that have increasingly raised deductibles and asked consumers to pay more out of pocket, have left many Americans facing difficult choices about whether to forgo medicine in favor of other necessities, including food.
That has created pressure on lawmakers to take action. Democrats campaigned aggressively last year on their promise to lower drug prices, which helped them regain the majority in the House. On Thursday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared on the Capitol steps with members of the freshman class to drive home that message.
Although the bill passed on Thursday is unlikely to become law in anything close to its present form, it will serve as a campaign document for the Democrats, to show voters what their vision is on prescription drugs and that they have the will to make a substantive change in the system rather than tinker around the edges.
The post House Votes to Give the Government the Power to Negotiate Drug Prices appeared first on New York Times.