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Yarmuth-Backed Bill To Lower Drug Prices Up For A Vote, But Without Much Chance Of Final Passage

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a massive bill that aims to lower the cost of prescription drugs for some Americans. But the Democrat-backed, partisan bill also has little chance of being taken up in the Senate.

The legislation is supported by Louisville Representative John Yarmuth, who said on a press call that his constituents face increasing prices on prescription drugs. Almost 30 percent of Americans recently hadn’t taken a prescribed medicine because of the cost, according to a Kaiser Family Foundationpoll released in February.

“Drug pricing right now is increasing at a much higher rate than virtually any other aspect of health care; it's also constituting a much larger percentage of total healthcare costs,” Yarmuth said. “So getting a handle on prescription drug prices is critical for not just our individual citizens welfare, but for the financial stability of Medicare, Medicaid and the government.”

The bill would direct the federal government to start negotiating the prices of 50 to 250 pricey prescription drugs. The reduced drug prices would only apply to drug costs in the Medicare program, as well as for people with private insurance. The federal government has never had this authority, though many other countries already do. TheCongressional Budget Office estimates the measure would have a net effect of reducing the federal deficit about $5 billion from 2020-2029. 

The bill would also allow Medicare enrollees to pay for prescriptions over a given time period, and not upfront at the pharmacy. It would also put a cap on how much an enrollee pays for prescriptions in a year.

But the CBO also predicted that the bill would result in eight fewer drug treatments reaching patients in a ten-year time span. That’s in part, the CBO said, because manufacturers wouldn’t spend as much money in research and development because of a decrease in profits and revenue.     

However, aseparate analysis by Emory and Harvard University researchers published in the medical news publication STAT found that pharmaceutical companies have reduced research on new drugs, and most of their money-making drugs aren’t ones that the companies invented themselves.

Even if the bill passes the House, it doesn’t have much chance of being heard in the Senate or ever being signed by President Donald Trump. That’s because the bill is Democrat-led and Senate Republicans have their own drug pricing bill. But the measure could be an important talking point as the 2020 elections approach.

Yarmuth also speculated that Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell wouldn’t bring up the Democrat-led bill up for Senate consideration.

“Just because we pass it doesn't mean it's going to happen,” Yarmuth said. “[But] this is too important a measure for it to sit there, because Mitch McConnell decides he doesn't want to give any Democrat a victory, no matter how much it benefits the American people or the financial stability of the government.”

The pharmaceutical lobbying industry also has come out strongly against the bill, recently issuing apoll that found 76 percent of voters are concerned that the bill would result in fewer new drug treatments. 

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.