On Thursday the Democratic-led House Education and Labor Committee voted along party lines to approve a sweeping prescription drug bill aimed at lowering costs of medicine across the country.
The bill, officially titled the Lower Drug Prices Now Act of 2019, aims to lower the cost of prescription medication by imposing caps on the markup that drug manufacturers are permitted to charge for the medicine. The bill would authorize the Secretary of the Department of Heath and Human Services to negotiate with manufacturers to cap drug prices at up to 120% of the price of the medication in six designated foreign countries, along with providing incentives for generic medication and alternative treatments. Manufacturers would be incentivized to negotiate with the government to cap the price of the medication as the bill authorizes the Secretary to impose steep excise taxes on the medication to effectively prevent the manufacturer from selling the drug in the United States in the event of refusal. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the bill would save consumers and Medicare nearly $350 billion by 2029, with the majority of the savings coming from reduced profit margins for drug manufacturers. The CBO also warned that the reduced profits may result in drug companies producing fewer new medications, estimating that 8-15 fewer new drugs would be introduced over the next decade if the bill was passed. The FDA approves roughly 300 new drugs for retail sale each decade.
Education and Labor Committee chairman Robert Scott said in a statement prior to the vote that the cost of prescription drugs are “out of control” and that drastic measures were required to prevent American consumers from paying “three or four times more — sometimes as much as thirty or more times more — than patients in other countries… for the exact same drugs.” The chairman also rejected the CBO’s claim that drug manufacturers would slash research and development budgets in response to lower profit margins, saying that “Nine out of ten of the largest pharmaceutical companies today spend more on marketing, sales, and overhead than they do on research” and that “the majority of new, lifesaving drugs are actually discovered using taxpayer-funded medical research from the National Institutes of Health.”
The bill remains in conference in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and House Oversight Committee, both of which are scheduled to markup the bill over the next week.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has already vowed that the bill will not be considered by the Senate if the full House passes it.