Legislative Update for Week Ending January 18, 2019

Legislative Update for Week Ending January 18, 2019

This week, the partial federal government shutdown continued, and several key bills that would reduce prescription drug costs for older Americans were introduced in the new Congress.

Government Shutdown Continues for Fourth Week

The federal government remained partially closed this week, making it the longest government shutdown in United States history. At the time of writing this week’s legislative update, lawmakers had made no progress towards a deal that would put an end to the ongoing shutdown.

Despite the standoff on Capitol Hill, The Senior Citizens League would like Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries to rest assured that their benefits will not be impacted by the shutdown. Both Social Security and Medicare are “mandatory” programs, which means that benefits will go out in full and as scheduled regardless of the federal government’s operating status. In addition, the administrative offices for both programs are fully funded and are currently operating normally, so those applying for benefits should not see any delays in their requests.

Nonetheless, The Senior Citizens League urges lawmakers to act responsibly and to fund the federal government immediately so that federal agencies can operate as smoothly as possible. In the days ahead, we will keep a close eye on the evolving negotiations, and we will continue to advocate for legislative solutions that would fully fund the federal government.

Lawmakers Introduce Key Prescription Drug Bills

This week, House and Senate lawmakers introduced two major legislative packages that would reduce prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries if adopted.

The first set of bills – introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) and Representative Elijah Cummings (MD-7) – contains two bills that have been endorsed by The Senior Citizens League. The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act (S. 99, H.R. 448), if adopted, would allow for price negotiation in the Medicare Part D program. Under current law, the Medicare program is prohibited from negotiating lower prices on behalf of beneficiaries, despite the fact that other government-run health programs are allowed to negotiate. As a result, Medicare Part D pays 73 percent more than Medicaid and 80 percent more than the Department of Veterans Affairs for brand name drugs, according to Senator Sanders and Representative Cummings.

The pair also introduced the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act (S. 97, H.R. 447). This bill, if adopted, would legalize the importation of prescription drugs from abroad by individuals, pharmacies, and wholesale distributors. According to Senator Sanders and Representative Cummings, medications manufactured by the same companies in the same factories can be accessed in Canada and other major countries for a fraction of the American price. In a statement, they said: “In 2017, Americans spent $1,208 per person on prescription drugs while Canadians spent $860 and people in the U.K. spent $476.” Their bill would improve access to affordable prescriptions from abroad while introducing competition to the American market.

The second set of bills – introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Senator Chuck Grassley (IA) – includes three bills that The Senior Citizens League endorsed this week. First, they introduced the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics and Biosimilars Act (S. 64), a bill that would prohibit anti-competitive pay-for-delay deals in the pharmaceutical industry. Brand name drug companies regularly pay generic and biosimilar competitors millions of dollars to delay the introduction of their products to the market. Cracking down on these anti-competitive deals would improve access to affordable generic and biosimilar medicines for Medicare beneficiaries and other American consumers.

Senator Klobuchar and Senator Grassley also introduced the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act (S. 61), which would allow individuals to import prescription drugs from approved pharmacies in Canada if adopted. In a statement, Senator Grassley said: “For decades, safe and affordable prescription drugs have been for sale just across the border, but legally out of reach for American families. It’s long past time for Congress to help the millions of Americans who struggle to pay exorbitant prices for medication. Our bill would do exactly that.”

Finally, Senator Klobuchar introduced the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act (S. 62) with the support of thirty-three original cosponsors. Her bill, if adopted, would allow Medicare to negotiate the best possible prices of prescription drugs for Part D beneficiaries. In a statement, she said: “Medicare is one of the largest drug purchasers in the country, but they are banned from negotiating on behalf of the 43 million seniors in Medicare Part D. My legislation will lift the restriction that prohibits Medicare from negotiating … American seniors deserve a better deal.”

The Senior Citizens League enthusiastically supports the bills mentioned above, and we look forward to working with their sponsors in the months ahead to help build momentum for their critical legislation. For progress updates on these bills in the 116th Congress, follow The Senior Citizens League on Twitter. To read our legislative agenda for the new Congress, click here.