Legislative Update for Week Ending June 16, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending June 16, 2017

This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on rising prescription drug costs. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw two key bills gain support in the House of Representatives.

Senate Committee Discusses Drug Costs

On Tuesday, the Senate HELP Committee held a bipartisan hearing to discuss the rising costs of prescription drugs. Members of the committee heard from four expert witnesses, including Doctor Paul Howard – Director of Health Policy at the Manhattan Institute – and Doctor Gerard Anderson – Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In his opening statement, HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) said: “Our focus today is on what happens to the cost of the drug after it is approved by the FDA. We will examine the path an approved drug takes from the manufacturer to patient, and how this path affects what the patient pays … This is a discussion that affects the well-being of every American family. It is important that we work together to conduct this fact finding in a bipartisan way.”

At the hearing, the witnesses explained the intricacies of the prescription drug price-setting process and the drivers of rising costs. Doctor Anderson told the committee members, “Drug pricing is extremely complex … When a company has a monopoly, it sets the price that maximizes its profit and that’s not the price that allows all people to get access to the drug.” Doctor Howard urged Congress to “create incentives that reward providers who use medicines and technology to deliver care as efficiently as possible, while also empowering patients with the information they need to identify high-quality providers.”

Several lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing promoted legislation they introduced this year to combat rising costs. Senator Al Franken (MN) asked his fellow committee members to support his Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act (S. 771), which would take comprehensive steps to reform the prescription drug industry. In addition, Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) urged those on the committee to cosponsor his bipartisan Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act (S. 469), which would allow individuals and pharmacies to import prescription drugs from approved pharmacies in Canada.

Senator Sanders said at the hearing: “Constituents are sick and tired of getting ripped off by drug companies and paying the highest prices in the world … The real issue is whether Congress has the guts to take on the powerful pharmaceutical industry.”

TSCL supports both prescription drug bills introduced by Senators Franken and Sanders earlier this year, and we will continue to advocate for them tirelessly in the coming months. We will also continue to monitor these discussions on Capitol Hill closely, as the Senate HELP Committee is expected to hold two additional hearings on the prescription drug topic in the near future. For updates, visit the Legislative News section of our website, or follow TSCL on Twitter.

Key Bills Gain Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Congressman Bill Foster (IL-11) – signed on to the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1902), bringing the total up to 162. The bill, which was introduced just a couple of months ago, has more support in Congress than any other comprehensive Social Security reform bill to date.

If adopted, it would provide beneficiaries with a 2 percent benefit boost, base cost-of-living adjustments on the more accurate Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, create a new minimum benefit set at 125 percent of the poverty line, and eliminate taxes on Social Security benefits for millions of seniors. It would also extend the solvency of the program through the year 2100 without cutting benefits for current or future retirees.

In addition, twelve new cosponsors signed on to the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act (H.R. 242) this week, bringing the total up to twenty-nine. The new cosponsors are: Representatives Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Thomas Suozzi (NY-3), John Sarbanes (MD-3), Peter DeFazio (OR-4), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), Brad Sherman (CA-30), Peter Visclosky (IN-1), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2), Jared Huffman (CA-2), Dave Loebsack (IA-2), and Jamie Raskin (MD-8).

If signed into law, H.R. 242 would require the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Currently, Medicare is prohibited from doing so despite the fact that other federal health programs are required to. If adopted, H.R. 242 would go a long way in reducing the costs of lifesaving medications for millions of Part D beneficiaries, and it would result in lower spending on prescription drugs for the Medicare program.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1902 and H.R. 242, and we were pleased to see support grow for both of them this week. For more information, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website.