Will a Divided Congress Find Common Ground on Prescription Drug Prices?

US Capitol building front steps

With a tighter grip on the U.S. Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell is looking to find some kind of common ground with the new Democratic House majority over the price of prescription medications.

Lowering the price of prescription drugs has been a centerpiece of the White House agenda and in an interview with Bloomberg, McConnell, who is the majority leader in the Senate, said he believes the two chambers of Congress will be able to work together to bring additional price relief to consumers. Bloomberg noted that Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to become the next Speaker of the House, is on board with the idea of using the muscle of Congress to find ways to lower costs. Pelosi told Bloomberg that the Democratic-led House “will take real, very strong legislative action” on drug prices.

But how Congress intends to take action remains to be seen. The new Democratic-led House will first need to select the Speaker and then heads of powerful committees that will develop action plans.

In an analysis of likely members of the House who may take over committee leadership positions that will affect health care and the pharmaceutical industry, Kaiser Health News pinned Rep. Elijah Cummings as the member of Congress who could prove to be big pharma’s “biggest headache come next year.” In its analysis, KHN speculated that Cummings will likely be tapped as chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Over the past several years Cummings has certainly been a thorn in the side of the pharmaceutical industry, holding hearings over price increases of various drugs and forcing representatives of companies like Valeant Pharmaceuticals to testify. He has also sent letters to various pharma leaders, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, demanding information about pricing policies.

Cummings told KHN in a statement that Democrats intend to investigate “skyrocketing prescription drug prices” and actions that “would threaten protections for people with preexisting health conditions, and efforts to undermine the Medicaid program.”

It won’t be known until after the new majority takes its seat what will actually happen as far as Congressional action on prescription prices. On Wednesday, one day after the election, President Donald Trump said in a press conference that prescription prices are an area he believes he can work with the Democratic majority.

During Trump’s first two years in office, there have been some reductions in drug prices. Most famously, Trump’s criticism forced Pfizer to hold off on a second round of drug price increases for the year and recently, Amgen announced a 60 percent reduction in the price of Repatha.

However, a recent analysis of pricing data showed that for every price cut of brand-name drugs, there were 96 price hikes. In October, Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Ian Read said in a conference call that the company may go back to “business as usual” in January regarding price increases.

I don’t believe that the proposed rule in reference pricing to price-controlled markets as a way of setting prices in the U.S. is good for innovation, patients or our industrial base,” Read said.

Read’s comment was a response to the presidential plan to lower prices. Support seems to be waning among pharma leaders. Brent Saunders, CEO of Allergan, also questioned whether or not the president’s policies were effective.

Click here to get the latest life sciences news straight to your inbox. Subscribe now to our FREE newsletters

Back to news