FiercePharmaPolitics⁠—Lawmakers, Americans weigh merits of House and Senate pricing bills

U.S. Capitol at dusk
House speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed pricing changes that would be "dead on arrival" in the senate, Republicans say. (Pixabay)

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

As lawmakers continue to debate drug pricing solutions, the White House last week seemed to distance itself from the House proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan calls for Medicare price negotiations, an international pricing index, potential fines for drugmakers and more. President Donald Trump originally said it was "great to see" the plan, but last week, the White House said it's focused elsewhere.

A White House spokesperson told The Hill that while “lines of communication remain open” with Pelosi’s office, the administration is now looking toward a Senate proposal as the "most likely solution that could advance on a bipartisan basis and achieve the President’s priority of lowering drug prices even further for all Americans.” That comes even after the president called for more negotiations before taking office. Republicans continue to say the House proposal would be "dead on arrival" in the Senate.

A separate drug pricing proposal from Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden calls for simplifying Medicare Part D, an out-of-pocket cap for Part D patients, tweaks to Medicare Part B and more transparency for pharma middlemen. That plan seems to have more support from pharma companies. 

Pelosi’s plan could save the federal government $345 billion over a seven-year span but would also reduce the flow of new drugs slightly, the Congressional Budget Office found. That’s been a sticking point for the pharma industry, as PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl called the Pelosi proposal a “job killer,” “innovation killer” and “hope killer” for patients. 

In a Sunday editorial, The New York Times argued that a slightly lower stream of new drugs would be worth it to realize the savings provided by the bill. While the bill would likely die in the Senate, at least 85% of Americans support government pricing negotiations, the editorial board points out.

As the situation plays out in Washington, Big Pharma CEOs commented on the developments on recent earnings conference calls. 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said there “has been a lot of discussion around the less constructive proposals,” but that it’s “difficult to imagine Congress supporting policies that will explicitly stand in the way of life-saving medicines being developed and made available to American patients.” He's confident “common-sense solutions can be found, but will drive continued innovation and benefit patients."

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks, for his part, said his company is “promoting changes” to Part D to help patients afford their drugs, without "throwing out the baby with the bathwater in wholesale change to the U.S. system." Such changes would “obviously be hugely damaging to the business model,” he added. 

And GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley said U.S. pricing discussions are “extremely dynamic,” but at the same time “uncomplicated because as long as we innovate … and price responsibly that will be our best opportunity for driving growth.”