Nearly 90% of the American public wants Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma – including a majority of Republicans.  Unfortunately, the will of the people is being thwarted not only by Republicans on Capitol Hill — who refuse to support Medicare price negotiation — but holdout ‘moderate’ Democrats.

This week three Blue Dog Democrats, Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), and Scott Peters (D-CA), voted against Medicare drug price negotiation in the House Energy & Commerce Committee, preventing the measure from being sent to the House floor. Over at the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) was the sole Democrat casting her vote against Medicare negotiation, though there were enough other votes to pass it out of that committee.  (Rep. Murphy voted against every provision in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion plan, saying she needed more time to study it.)  

These ‘No’ votes have not yet doomed Medicare drug cost negotiation – which we have long argued is the best way to reduce prescription prices for seniors – but they do signal that there may not be enough Democratic support for the measure to pass in the full U.S. House, where the party has only the slimmest of majorities.  

Even if Medicare price negotiation survives a House vote (as part of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan), it is unlikely to garner sufficient support in the Senate. Republicans, of course, will not vote for it, and Senate Democrats are already working on a more modest drug price reform package that does not allow Medicare to negotiate prices.

“The purpose of the drug pricing policy is to pay for a host of new health care policies. The way it works is that it allows the government to restrict the maximum price that drug companies can charge for insulin and a set of expensive drugs that don’t face competition, and generate savings by forcing pharmaceutical companies to take the hit — the measure could save the government $500 billion over a decade.” – MSNBC, 9/16/21 

This is another one of those moments in history when reformers put forward commonsense proposals (with the support of the majority of the American people) — and wealthy, powerful interests block their efforts. Big Pharma has intensified its lobbying efforts to defeat drug pricing reform – and especially the ability of Medicare to negotiate prices.  In fact, Big Pharma successfully lobbied to exclude Medicare price negotiation when the Medicare Modernization Act was written and enacted in 2003.  

Seniors and their advocates felt that this year – with a Democratic President and both houses of Congress in the party’s control – was a golden opportunity to realize the long-held goal of Medicare drug price negotiation.  But Big Pharma’s choke hold on federal policy decisions is formidable.   

Some question the role that campaign contributions could be playing in this scenario. Of the three House Energy & Commerce committee Democrats who voted to nix Medicare price negotiation, two receive significant contributions from Big Pharma.  Reps. Schrader and Peters have collected nearly $1.5 million over the course of their careers.  In fact, Congressman Peters is the House’s “top recipient of pharmaceutical industry donations in the 2022 election cycle,” according to MSNBC.  (Rep. Rice has received a relatively modest $8,500 from the industry since 2020, says MSNBC.)

“Leaders of nearly two dozen drug manufacturers said that though they share Americans’ concerns over healthcare costs, ‘these dangerous policy experiments are not the answer.’ Dangerous policy experiments? Nearly every other developed country worldwide allows its government insurance system to negotiate drug prices. And guess what? This reasonable use of market power allows people in other countries to pay roughly half what Americans pay for prescription meds.” – Los Angeles Times, 9/16/21 

Of course, everyday Americans living paycheck to paycheck deserve to be heard, too. And while seniors’ advocates like us continue to fight for meaningful reform, it can be an uphill battle against Big Pharma’s billions. Not for lack of trying by the President. Earlier this week, President Biden reiterated his support for Medicare price negotiation, which is part of his Build Back Better plan.

We and our members and supporters still will embrace other meaningful reforms to emerge from the 117th Congress. Linking drug price increases to inflation and capping Medicare beneficiaries’ out of pocket drug costs are solid steps toward taming prescription prices.  They would help seniors on fixed incomes — and likely lower drug costs for the public at large.  But the American people want the full package, including Medicare price negotiation.  They know that out of control drug prices are hurting Americans of all ages.  When people ration medications or don’t fill prescriptions because of cost, it can literally kill them.  Members of Congress should not turn their backs on the people they are supposed to represent.  They should muster the courage to stand with the public — and not Big Pharma.