Legislative Update for Week Ending February 3, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending February 3, 2017

This week, despite a boycott by several lawmakers, the Senate Finance Committee advanced the nomination of Congressman Tom Price (GA-6), who was selected by the administration to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In addition, President Donald Trump met with executives in the pharmaceutical industry to discuss rising prescription drug prices.

HHS Nomination Advanced by Finance Committee

On Tuesday, several Senate Finance Committee members in the minority party boycotted a vote on the nomination of Congressman Tom Price, who was selected in January to fill the position of HHS Secretary. The boycott briefly delayed the vote by preventing the necessary quorum from being reached by the committee. However, in an unprecedented move, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (UT) and those in the majority party voted to suspend the committee rules. On Wednesday, with no Democrats present, the Finance Committee voted 14-0 to advance Congressman Price’s nomination.

Those who boycotted the vote said they needed more time to question Congressman Price and one other cabinet nominee. Senator Sherrod Brown (OH) said on Tuesday: “We have great concern that Chairman Hatch is asking us to vote today on two nominees who out and lied to our committee.” Following the vote on Wednesday, Ranking Member Ron Wyden (OR) said: “Today, for the first time in history, the Senate Finance Committee broke the rules to push through on a partisan basis two nominees. Boycotts of committee meetings are not unheard of – my Republican colleagues, led by Chairman Hatch, took such a step just a few years ago.” In response to complaints from Democrats, Finance Committee Chairman Hatch said, “They on their own accord refused to participate in the exercise. They have nobody to blame but themselves.”

The nomination of Congressman Price now moves to the Senate floor, where a final vote is expected next week. If confirmed with a simple majority as expected, he will lead the agency which has jurisdiction over Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and many other critical health programs. The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) will keep a close eye on the confirmation of Congressman Price in the days ahead since his actions as Secretary would significantly impact older Americans. For updates, visit the Legislative News section of our website.

Trump Meets with Pharmaceutical Executives

On Tuesday, President Trump met with executives in the pharmaceutical industry to discuss “astronomical” prescription drug prices. For months, he has been outspoken about allowing HHS to negotiate lower prescription drug prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries. Just three weeks ago – during a January 12 news conference – President Trump said, “We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world and yet we don’t bid properly and we’re going to save billions of dollars.”

However, at Tuesday’s meeting with powerful industry leaders, he reportedly stayed quiet on price negotiation. He told pharmaceutical executives: “We have to get lower prices, we have to get even better innovation, and I want you to move your companies back into the United States … We’re going to be lowering taxes, we’re going to be getting rid of regulations that are unnecessary.” He vowed to “oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market,” including “price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare.”

TSCL is disappointed that President Trump seems to have changed his position on prescription drug price negotiation. If HHS were allowed to negotiate prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries, the federal government would save billions of dollars annually and older Americans would have access to more affordable medications. In the coming months, TSCL will continue to advocate for legislation like the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act (S. 41, H.R. 242), which was recently introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Representative Peter Welch (VT). For updates on the bill’s progress, follow TSCL on Facebook and Twitter.