FiercePharmaPolitics—Grassley pushes for Senate drug pricing bill to pass by May

Chuck Grassley
Sen. Charles Grassley introduced drug pricing legislation in the Senate Finance Committee last year along with Sen. Ron Wyden (not pictured). (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Welcome to the FiercePharma political roundup, where each Monday we’ll highlight developments in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that could affect drug pricing and how drugmakers operate.

As the Democratic primaries roll on and presidential candidates continue to attack the drug industry, one Republican senator is making a big push for his legislation.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who last year introduced a drug pricing bill with Sen. Ron Wyden, recently predicted the legislation will pass a bipartisan vote by May 20, the Daily Iowan reports

The senator plans to negotiate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fight for more Republican support and get President Donald Trump to back his bill, which he argues has a better chance than others in Congress, the publication says.

The Grassley-Wyden bill out of the Senate Finance Committee would limit price hikes in Medicare to the rate of inflation and implement an out-of-pocket cap for patients. If companies were to raise prices above the rate of inflation, they’d be forced to pay a rebate.

In Congress’ other chamber, House Democrats have passed Pelosi’s more aggressive bill that calls for Medicare price negotiations, penalties for drugmakers that don’t negotiate, an international price index and more.

At the State of the Union speech earlier this month, Trump told lawmakers to “get a bill to my desk” for a signature. In response, Democrats chanted “HR 3,” the name for their bill. Now, Grassley is aiming to get his bill passed during a busy election year. 

Within the Trump administration, HHS Secretary Alex Azar has indicated support for the Grassley bill and recently pointed out that pharma companies already agree to price hike limits in their commercial agreements. 

“These drug companies already sign contracts with the middlemen with long-term price predictability guarantees,” Azar said at a congressional hearing. “This is not an alien concept to the drug companies. This exists as a commercial practice already; we would just get the benefit for the seniors and our taxpayers through this program.”

RELATED: GOP senators distance themselves from Grassley, Trump's efforts to cut drug prices 

As those efforts play out, the administration continues to keep its international price index proposal alive as a negotiating “stick,” Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in a note last week. Pharma strongly opposes that measure. 

Despite Grassley’s effort, the Senate Finance Committee right now “looks unlikely” to pass, Gal wrote. If Republicans in the Senate start getting on board, that’d be an indication that the pharma industry is coming around to the bill, the analyst added. 

Also last week, the Wall Street Journal published a detailed account of drug pricing developments over the last few years in Washington, plus possible outcomes from the ongoing back-and-forth. The takeaway? After Republicans generally sided with the drug lobby for many years, new cracks in that support that could lead to increased regulation, WSJ reports.