- The Washington Times - Monday, October 25, 2021

Progressives are panning Democratic leaders’ moves to scale down President Biden’s plan for Medicare to negotiate down drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, calling the compromise plan “a sham.”

The plan to lower drug costs was a key part of Mr. Biden’s social welfare and climate bill that’s getting paired down to satisfy the party’s moderates. Now far-left lawmakers and their allies say the new plan wouldn’t lower the cost of medicine nearly enough.

Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, said the drug-pricing compromise that’s in the works “would be political malpractice.”

He was among several advocates on a conference call with reporters Monday to blast the dealmaking on Capitol Hill aimed at satisfying moderates.

“People will still have to continue to choose between taking the drugs they need or putting food on the table or having a roof over their heads,” Leslie Dach, founder of the advocacy group, Protect Our Care, said of the watered-down version of Mr. Biden’s proposal.

To make matters worse, a prominent Democratic pollster on the call said that weakening Mr. Biden’s drug-pricing plan would hurt Democrats as they try to hang on to control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections.

Weakening or eliminating Mr. Biden’s proposal from the final package would be “an opportunity lost in being able to speak about their accomplishments” before next year’s elections, said Geoffrey Garin, president of Hart Research, a Democratic pollster.

It is part of growing disappointment on the left as details emerge on how Democrats will slash what they initially portrayed as a “transformational” $3.5 trillion package down to about $2 trillion. The drug-pricing measure is expected to cut the number of impacted medications by half to appease moderates, most notably Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, expressed optimism that they could bridge differences between the party’s far-left and center as soon as this week.

Mr. Biden’s drug pricing plan has come under heavy attacks from companies that the money they’d lose from reducing drug prices would reduce what they can spend to develop new cures. Moderate Democrats in the Senate and House, many of whom have received contributions from drug companies, have echoed those concerns. Because of their slim majorities in both chambers, nearly all Democrats would be needed to pass the package.

Drug companies have called Mr. Biden’s plan to force them to negotiate with Medicare a government rate-setting scheme. They object to the plan hitting them with a new tax if they do not agree to the prices the government wants.

Drug companies would have to offer the same lower prices to people who get healthcare coverage through private insurance.

A compromise offered by House Democrats would exclude new drugs from the price negotiations and remove the penalty for not making a deal with Medicare.

The plan from Democratic Reps. Scott Peters of California and Kurt Schrader of Oregon would exempt new drugs from having to negotiate prices with the government for as many as 21 years and reduce the number of drugs subject to the negotiations.

It would also remove the penalty on drug companies if they do not offer medications at the price the government wants, a move that would also remove incentives for the companies to agree to lower prices in the negotiations.

These compromises are non-starters with progressive advocates such as Mr. Dach.

“If anyone says this will include negotiations would not be telling people the truth,” he said.

• Kery Murakami can be reached at kmurakami@washingtontimes.com.

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