Trump's Drug-Price Stance Puts Pharma on Notice

  • Bipartisan support hints at future drug legislation success
  • Twelve Republicans voted in favor of importation measure

Trump Drug Price Fight Shouldn't Surprise Biotech: Nisen

President-elect Donald Trump’s fiery stance on drug prices is putting pressure on pharmaceutical companies that may be designed to bring their support for his planned overhaul of the nation’s health-care system.

Hours after Trump upended pharmaceutical stocks Wednesday with a pledge to force drugmakers to bid for government business, the U.S. Senate narrowly rejected a proposal to allow importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. While votes on most amendments to the budget resolution went along party lines Wednesday night and Thursday morning, 12 Republicans supported the drug-import measure, with 13 Democrats opposed. 

Bipartisan crossover in the 52-46 vote shows the drug pricing issue might have the power to unite enough members of both parties on legislation. Trump’s remarks may have had the effect of bringing pharma companies to the table in repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which the president-elect has made a priority.

‘‘It may just be setting a starting point for negotiations and then using that for negotiations later in the ACA,” Walid Gellad, who heads the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, said in an interview. “You’re not going to get the support of the pharmaceutical industry if you’re talking about reducing their revenue.”

‘Reasonable Prospect’

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, said the president-elect wants Democrats to be involved in drug-cost legislation, which she linked to a broader push to repeal the ACA.

“To repeal and replace Obamacare and not have a conversation about drug pricing seems not like a reasonable prospect,” she said Thursday in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

In a statement responding to Trump’s remarks Wednesday, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Chief Executive Officer Stephen Ubl said that purchasers negotiate lower drug prices in a competitive marketplace, and the group looks forward to working with the new administration on improving the marketplace to serve patients’ needs. Representatives of the Washington drug lobby responded to questions on Thursday with the same statement.

Members of both parties have been laying the groundwork for bills that could go after the drug industry, including measures to force drugmakers to report any price increase of more than 10 percent and to stop deals that brand pharmaceutical companies make with their generic counterparts to keep low-cost copies off the market.

The importation measure, proposed by senators Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, was meant to give Americans access to cheaper drugs, though opponents argue the safety of other countries’ pharmaceuticals can’t be guaranteed. Klobuchar also proposed an amendment backing the government’s ability to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare but a vote wasn’t taken on the measure. Colin Milligan, a spokesman for the senator, didn’t respond for requests to comment.

Negotiation Protection

PhRMA has worked to insulate the industry from bidding on drug prices from government programs. The group pledged $80 billion to help fund Obamacare in 2009 in exchange for protection from drug-price negotiation that Democrats wanted to include in the Affordable Care Act.

Five Republican senators had also proposed an amendment to the budget resolution that would delay a target date for the Senate to consider a bill to repeal Obamacare to March 3 from Jan. 27 but the measure was withdrawn.

Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said they withdrew the amendment “following assurances from Senate leadership that Congress will follow a responsible timeline for replacing the health care law. I am encouraged that the debate has shifted in recent weeks from ‘repeal only’ to ‘repeal and replace’ in a thoughtful and deliberative manner.”

— With assistance by Laura Curtis

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