It won’t make the headlines, but Congress was hard at work this week producing health reform legislation around ideas that have bi-partisan support and which actually could become law.
But that apparently is not Speaker Pelosi’s goal. Pelosi strong-armed her drug pricing bill, H.R. 3, through the House yesterday, with unanimous Democratic support and two Republican defections (Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington). Politico details the political wrangling that got Democrats in line, including the “progressive” caucus that didn’t think it went far enough.
H.R. 3 is a bad bill with a sweeping expansion of government price-setting (wrongly called government price “negotiation”) that will dramatically curtail creation of new drugs and distort supplies and that would impose onerous taxes on drug makers who don’t play along with the government-imposed pricing scheme.
In a new paper for Heritage, Doug Badger explains that H.R. 3 would “do great damage to the health of Americans…and preserve the status quo of high drug prices” because it never will become law. The Speaker’s “flawed and divisive” never will get through the Senate and faces a veto threat from the President.
Republicans had offered their own bill, H.R. 19, “The Lower Costs, More Cures Act.” Doug explains that H.R. 19 is based on “bipartisan consensus on policies to rein in drug prices through increased choice and competition.” It would “provide relief to seniors from high drug costs and spur competition that will reduce drug prices for all Americans” by banning practices that impede the entry of more affordable generic drugs, he writes. Eight Democrats supported the alternative bill House Republicans offered—far short of the number needed for passage but offering some hope for a bi-partisan solution if members feel enough heat from voters next year.
Earlier, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) released their own bipartisan bill, the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019.
So it looks like we have a stalemate on realistic congressional action on prescription drug pricing for now. But the path is now clear for millions of dollars of political ads on the issue all next year. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile another political compromise was reached this week—on surprise medical bills. This agreement could buy time for Congress to agree on sensible solutions—most likely next year. Hope springs eternal.
The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Ways & Means Committee agreed on an outline of policies to address surprise medical bills. Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) and Kevin Brady (R-TX) want insurers, doctors, hospitals and other providers to work out billing disputes on their own and use an “outside mediation” process if there’s no resolution.
We object to forcing entities who never signed a contract to the negotiating table, but we were pleased to see the agreement encourages transparency and wouldn’t have the federal government setting rates, which opens the door to imposing more sweeping price controls throughout the health sector.
The Neal-Brady plan differs from another surprise medical bill proposal that has bi-partisan, bi-cameral support. The bill developed by Senate HELP Committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) along with Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) “includes proposals from 80 senators, 46 Democrats and 34 Republicans.”
Doug Badger and Brian Blase offered the best road map in their recent Galen Institute paper, “A Targeted Approach to Surprise Medical Billing.” Their careful approach includes preventing insurers and providers from giving false and misleading information to consumers and requiring that patients receive a good faith price estimate in advance of receiving scheduled care with a targeted approach to out-of-network emergency bills.
Congressional leaders say they will head back to the drawing board next year on surprise bills.
So you won’t hear much about it, but the hard legislative work of developing bi-partisan, bi-cameral proposals on health reform are well underway in the Congress. Politics has prevailed over progress for now, but hope springs eternal that Congress will ultimately do the right thing with targeted approaches to both drug pricing and surprise bills.