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White House abandons House bill to reduce prescription drug costs, favors Senate bill

A prescription bottle of white pills spilling on a pile of $100 dollar bills

Any hopes that President Trump might support a House bill to lower prescription drug prices by negotiating those prices with drug makers were dashed Thursday after a White House official said the administration supports a Senate version instead. 

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, wrote a provision into the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act that would save seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D money by caping out-of-pocket costs for drugs at $2,000 and allowing them to pay that money back in equal installments over the year rather than all at once. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and other House Democrats held out hope that Trump might pressure Senate Republicans to support negotiated drug prices, a measure included in the House version. Trump has in the past said negotiating drug prices with manufacturers is needed to reduce costs for U.S. citizens. 

“They’re setting prices in other countries and we’re not,” Trump said in 2017. “The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder, and we want to bring our process down to what other countries are paying, or at least close, and let the other countries pay more, because they’re setting such low prices that we’re actually subsidizing  other countries and that’s just not going to happen anymore.”

Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said he wouldn’t take up the House version and said “Socialist price controls will do a lot of left-wing damage to the healthcare system.” 

Politico reported on Thursday that Trump’s domestic policy adviser Joe Grogan, in discussion with Pelosi’s office about the House bill, said “I admire the ambition, but I don’t know how you’re going to get it through. It might be time to start thinking about [the Senate Finance bill].”

Compared to the House bill’s cap on costs to seniors at $2,000 the Senate’s bill would increase that cap to $3,100. 

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Grogan told Politico on Thursday that the White House wants a bipartisan Senate bill but is willing to forgo a measure by Senate Democrats that would cap Medicare Part D price increases to annual inflation rates. Several Republican lawmakers came out against such a cap during an earlier markup of the Senate bill. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cap tied to inflation rates  could save the government $50 billion over a decade, but Politico reported that Grogan said they “were never part of our proposal.”

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Each year, Rep. Sewell visits each of the 14 counties in her district.