House Democrats launch pharma-pricing task force, vow 'meaningful action' on drug costs

Drugmakers would like the political backlash against price increases to go away. Instead, it just keeps growing. Following up on price-squashing proposals from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, a group of House Democrats say they're poised to unveil their own plan.

The newly formed Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force--led by Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform--plans a press conference Wednesday morning to announce "meaningful action to combat the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals."

There's no advance word of what that action might entail. But Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee's ranking Democrat, has put some of his ideas on record already. In May, Cummings introduced generic drug-pricing legislation in the House--a counterpart to Sanders' Senate bill--and it was incorporated into the budget agreement approved last week.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings

That legislation forces higher Medicaid rebates when drugmakers raise the prices of generics faster than the rate of inflation.

Of course, the recent firestorm of pharma fault-finding centers on branded meds. Spurred by a few astronomical price hikes--the now-notorious 5000%-plus increase on Turing Pharmaceuticals' Daraprim included--politicians have resurrected a few old ideas for keeping a lid on price increases, including Medicare price negotiation and re-importation of prescription meds.

The new task force suggests it has some newer proposals to make, and they cite some new public-opinion stats to show that voters are on their side. Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new poll showing that 77% of those surveyed--Democrats, Republicans and independents--said drug prices were their top health concern.

But regardless of the public backlash, analysts doubt there will be a sea change in drug pricing. Medicare price negotiation and drug reimportation have both failed repeatedly. And drugmakers spend many millions on lobbying, and their trade association PhRMA is among the most powerful industry groups in Washington.

- see the task force release

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