Efforts to Limit Drug Prices Are Stalled — and Pharma Is Seizing an Opening

Dozens of vulnerable House Democrats are worried that the party’s stalled spending negotiations with Joe Manchin will cost them seats in the midterms — and hand Congress to the Republicans

Democrats had planned to include legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, fulfilling a campaign promise that helped them win control of the House in the “blue wave” of 2018, as part of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. The plan was met with resistance. expensive lobbying blitzThe pharmaceutical industry, prompting Democrats a significant watering down of the bill to limit how many drugs Medicare could negotiate. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and other industry-aligned Democrats –– and that was before Manchin blew up the Build Back Better package entirely.

“We cannot overstate the paramount urgency of fulfilling the promise of lowering drug prices now for the American people,” a group of 40 House Democrats, led by Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., said in a letterto party leaders Monday

The letter was issued after pharmaceutical companies increased prices on hundreds more medications in the first year. A recent reportPatients for Affordable drugs found that drug companies increased the prices of more than 550 drugs. They included 183 drugs that had their prices raised by $100 or more and 118 that have risen to more than $5,000. Pfizer raised the prices of 125 drugs alone, more than any other company, and it also smashed profit records due to its profits. $36 billionIts widely-used COVID vaccine was a major contributor to its sales.

“Even as we enter the third year of a pandemic, Big Pharma continues its practice of targeting American patients and consumers with price increases, completely undeterred by the financial and health challenges facing American families,” David Mitchell, the founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, said in a statement.

“Drug corporations can do this because we let them — unlike other nations that use their purchasing power to get a better deal,” said Mitchell, who suffers from an incurable blood cancer that is treated with a cocktail of drugs carrying a list price of more than $900,000 per year. The original drug-pricing agreement in the Build Back Better Act, he said, “would curb rising drug prices for millions of patients and halt abusive annual price hikes by limiting increases to the rate of inflation, which is projected to return to 2.3 percent in 2023.”

Election forecasts generally suggestThe midterm elections will see Democrats lose control of the House. This makes popular drug legislation a top priority. rollback of the Trump-era tax cuts, an extension for the expanded Child Tax Credit, paid family leave.

A Data for Progress pollLast fall, the likely voters supported Medicare legislation by a 55 point margin. This included 83% of Democrats, 71% Independents, and 65% of Republicans.

“Taking action on prescription drugs is one of the most popular political issues Democrats can pursue — it’s overwhelmingly supported by a bipartisan majority of voters,” Sean McElwee, the founder and executive director of Data for Progress, said in an email. “Democrats need to take every opportunity to lower costs for voters and deliver popular legislation that visibly improves their lives this November.”

Manchin, who left the Build Back Better negotiations in December following the White House called him out by name in a statement over the bill’s delay, said on Tuesday that the Build Back Better bill is “dead”Any negotiations on possible spending programs would need to be started from scratch. Biden has said that he hopes to include “chunks” of the original bill in a potential compromise package with Manchin.

Manchin declared last year that he supports the drug-price legislation. calling it the “one thing that should be done for sure.” But the West Virginia senator appears to be prioritizingBipartisan negotiations to reform Electoral Count Act have prevailed over any spending bill, leaving a key Democratic campaign promise unfulfilled.

“President Biden supports this plan. We support this plan,” the House Democratic group said in their letter. “Every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate supports this plan. The American people also support this plan. It is time for it to be made law. Already this year drug corporations have increased the prices of more than 400 medications. Action can’t happen soon enough to make medicines more affordable for the millions who need them.”

The pharmaceutical lobby was responsible for the price rises. shattered its own record for lobbying spending as it rallied around the cause of defeating Biden’s legislation. Sinema and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), are two of the largest recipients Big Pharma donations. led an effort to cut the number of drugsMedicare could negotiate this. The compromise legislation could save taxpayers $80 billion. It would also cap price hikes on certain medications, limit out-of pocket costs for seniors, and set the cost of insulin at $35 per person on Medicare and private plans.

Medicare is the only government agency that is barred from negotiating bulk pricing discounts — the result of an infamous scheme hatched by Big Pharma lobbyists and a Republican leaderThe provision was inserted into a bill that required Medicare coverage for prescription drugs. This was shortly before he left Congress, and he became the top lobbyist in the industry. A three-year investigationThe House Oversight and Reform Committee found last month that pharmaceutical companies exploit Medicare to increase revenues. It also noted that taxpayers could have saved more that $25 billion over five-years if Medicare allowed to negotiate the price of seven popular drugs like Lyrica and Humira.

The investigation also found that drug companies “aggressively raise prices” to hit revenue targets and incentives for executives and have targeted the U.S. market for higher prices while keeping costs lower overseas. The report also concluded that drug companies “abuse the patent system” to suppress competition and maintain monopoly pricing. Drug companies claim that their large profits are necessary for research and development. However, the investigation revealed that the 14 largest drug companies spent $577 million on stock buybacks, dividends, and other investments in just five years. This is $56 billion more than what they spent on research & development during the same period.

The House approved a limited Medicare negotiation bill last spring that would allow Medicare the ability to negotiate the cost 20 popular drugs as well as dozens of insulin products for Medicare beneficiaries of 8.5 million. According to a recent analysis, the Kaiser Family FoundationHowever, many of the most expensive Medicare drugs would be exempt.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which pushed for a more expansive bill that would have saved taxpayers an estimated $450 billion over 10 years but ultimately agreed to back the scaled-down version, set a target date of March 1 to pass the revised spending plan ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address.

“This is both achievable and necessary,” CPC Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said in a statement, noting that in the weeks since negotiations had stalled out, “the case for this legislation has only become more urgent.”