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House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row

May 17, 2019
In The News

House Democrats on Thursday forced Republicans to vote against their own drug pricing bills by packaging them with measures intended to shore up ObamaCare.

The House passed the package in a 234-183 vote, with Democrats drawing only five Republicans to vote with the majority.

As part of the package, Democrats voted on three bills that would help remove barriers to generic drugs entering the market, and would crack down on tactics that lawmakers say pharmaceutical companies use to tamp down competition and keep prices high.

The bills were bipartisan, and passed unanimously out of the Energy and Commerce Committee, but Democratic leaders this week combined them with legislation rolling back some of what they call the administration’s “sabotage” of ObamaCare.

That forced Republicans into the tough position of voting down popular drug pricing bills, so as not to be seen as favoring ObamaCare.

The move was slammed by Republicans for inserting politics into something that has traditionally been bipartisan.

“I have to express my regret that the bipartisan work we did … gets paired up with a purely partisan bill they know we had problems with,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“That’s disappointing at best and discouraging and unfortunate, because there’s an opportunity to legislate here,” Walden added.

Republicans had pushed for the drug pricing bills to be separated out from the ObamaCare legislation for a standalone vote.

Adding in the ObamaCare legislation also makes it less likely the GOP-controlled Senate will take up the drug pricing bills.

President Trump, who has made lowering drug prices a key priority, said he supports the drug pricing provisions but would veto the ObamaCare legislation if it ever passed the Senate. 

The drug pricing bills included the long-stalled Creates Act, as well as one that would crack down on brand-name drug companies paying generic companies to delay introducing their competing drugs — a practice called “pay-for-delay.”

During a press conference Thursday, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) decried adding what he said were “partisan poison pills” to legislation where everyone was in agreement.

“They took a situation where we found common ground on drug pricing and transparency … but before they came to the floor, they put poison pills in it dealing with the Affordable Care Act,” McCarthy said.

Democrats said the savings from the three drug pricing bills, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated at $4 billion over the next 10 years, is needed to pay for the ObamaCare bills.

Those bills would ban short-term insurance plans, which Democrats call “junk insurance” plans because they don't have to meet ObamaCare's coverage requirements. The package also includes a bill to restore marketing and outreach funding to help Americans buy insurance through the insurance exchanges.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democratic leadership forced Republicans into the tough vote on drug pricing in part because of repeated GOP attempts to undermine ObamaCare.

“I think, frankly, we have packaged these bills because we think they are all part and parcel of what we pledged to the American people; that is, bringing down prices and making healthcare available at a level that they need to protect themselves and their families,” Hoyer told reporters Wednesday. “I regret that the administration continues to try to undermine the ACA.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told The Hill he thinks there will be other opportunities for bipartisan work on drug pricing.

"This is important to strengthen the ACA. I don’t have a problem with what leadership is doing," Khanna said.