LEESBURG, Va. — Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday inched closer to agreeing on legislation for drug price negotiations in Medicare Part D, but the caucus still has not settled on a specific plan.
The ultimate policy could potentially flow into the commercial market, and was a major focus at the House Democratic Caucus' issues conference.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told reporters they're planning their a national town hall through Facebook Live to rally public support around the negotiating bill by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (R-Texas). The nearly 80-member progressive caucus has endorsed the proposal, which would leverage patent licenses to get manufacturers of expensive, sole-source drugs to agree with HHS on a price.
Meanwhile the moderate New Democrat Coalition, which recruited a swath of the freshman class into its ranks, is also planning its drug pricing agenda. Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), a co-chair of the group's healthcare task force, made it clear that "volume discount negotiation in Medicare Part D is a critical part of any legislation out of the committee."
"I think it could go to the commercial market as well," she said in an interview after the New Democrats briefed reporters on Thursday.
Kuster added her belief that Congress made a mistake during the George W. Bush administration by establishing the Part D program without giving Medicare any mechanism for discounts. She said that this time around lawmakers want to avoid repeating that.
"I think the toughest situation is where there's sole-source drugs," she said. "What I'm very comfortable with is negotiation where you have volume."
In light of Wednesday's contentious hearing on insulin prices before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight panel, she also noted that Republicans increasingly support decisive action on the issue.
The House Democrats also discussed ramping up scrutiny of the patent system, another issue that makes drugmakers nervous.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, said judiciary staff from the House and Senate have been talking about the issue. He hopes to map out the subcommittee hearing schedule shortly.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who sits on Energy and Commerce, noted judiciary committees will need to be involved "in terms of how long the patents go" in order to get to every part of the system.
Dingell said she's focused on pharmacy benefit managers, whose executives testified before the Senate Finance Committee this week, "because people don't understand what they're doing."
While specifics were missing on Thursday, House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said leaders are in the initial stages of discussing arbitration as the mechanism for lowering prices.
Discussions in the upper chamber are also generalized, although Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Wednesday he hopes a package will come together by June or July.
Grassley has said that he's looking at arbitration, "but I've made no decisions."
A panel of experts joined the lawmakers to discuss healthcare policy, including Mark Miller, executive vice president of healthcare for Arnold Ventures; Kaiser Foundation Health Plan CEO Bernard Tyson; Rebekah Gee, secretary of health for the Louisiana Department of Health; and Andy Slavitt, former acting CMS administrator under President Barack Obama.