Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
As Democrats in the Senate, including moderate Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, seem poised to advance a bill that would, they say, lead to reduced costs on some prescription drugs, at least one Republican leader is attempting to galvanize opposition.
In one of the rare instances that Democrats have found a topic on which their plan polls well with voters across the political spectrum, senators on the left are preparing for a final push on a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate the price on 10 common prescription drugs.
“Let me say this: We are excited about doing prescription drugs,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week. “This is something we’ve waited for, for a very long time and is going to be a major, major accomplishment to help people, bring down inflation.”
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected Schumer’s claim that the bill would aid in combatting inflation, called the Democrats’ plan “prescription drug socialism,” and said it would be unwise to set a standard that deprived drug companies of millions of dollars that McConnell said would be used for research.
“Staring down the barrel of the economic disaster they’ve created, Washington Democrats still don’t appear to be pumping the brakes on their reckless agenda,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. “For example, the same Democrats who spent our country into inflation are now angling to regulate our medical cures industry into fewer new cures and fewer life-saving treatments.”
McConnell later added, “Arbitrary, top-down government price controls would dry out the wells of American innovation to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in lost research and development.
“And American patients would feel the pain. The cost of breakthrough cures is measured in dollars, but the cost of neglecting them would be measured in lost years of American life.”
McConnell is playing what is likely a losing game with voters.
As first reported by The Hill, a recent poll by the Kaiser Foundation, a non-profit organization that specializes in health-related research, found that 83% of all Americans – 95% of Democrats, 71% of Republicans, and 82% of independents – favor Medicare being allowed to negotiate drug prices. The prevailing hope is that if Medicare can negotiate down drug prices for its patients that would lead to a broader reduction for all patients.
It remains to be seen just how well McConnell’s plea has been received among his fellow legislators, or if it will have any bearing on the bill’s passing.
For the left, the sticking point could be scope and timing. The new law wouldn’t take effect until 2026, not exactly a kneejerk turnaround and certainly unlikely to have any bearing on inflation, as Schumer indicated. Further, with just 10 drugs slated for 2026 and 10 more in 2029, it would be hard for even the most optimistic Democrat to call the bill exhaustive.
The sticking point for the right might be the word negotiation. While the language of the bill certainly refers to the process as a negotiation, the proposed law functions more as a discussion within rigid parameters. The law comes equipped with a price ceiling that Medicare negotiators would not legally be able to surpass.
If that number is below what drug companies view as fair market value, the companies would have little recourse. If they opted to not negotiate at all, they would face a 95% tax penalty.
“Just two years ago, Democrats were lining up with Republicans and the rest of the country to cheer the American researchers and innovators who were driving the race for a COVID-19 vaccine… a race they finished in record time,” McConnell said. “The American people know what it looks like when life-saving advances happen right here at home. Unfortunately, they may be about to find what happens when they don’t.”
A timeline for debate and a final vote on the bill has not been established, but it could be finalized within the next two weeks.