San Antonio Express News: Rep. Doggett pushes for more teeth in landmark drug-pricing bill
WASHINGTON - With the U.S. House set for a long-awaited vote on legislation to lower prescription drug prices, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and allies came up short in their drive for an even more ambitious plan to expand government authority over the pharmaceutical industry.
The House is expected to vote Thursday on a landmark drug-pricing bill, which promises to be central in the Democrats’ 2020 elections appeal. The legislation gives Medicare authority to negotiate the price of 50 of the most expensive drugs — as the Veterans Administration already does with all prescriptions — and cap prices based on costs in other developed countries.
Doggett, D-San Antonio, leader of an alliance of like-minded liberals, failed in the Democratic-run Rules Committee late Tuesday to let Medicare negotiate prices for many more drugs and include the uninsured in the savings.
But Democrat leaders, heeding warnings from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, declined to accept the changes.
Doggett, long a drug-industry antagonist, said that many of the bill’s features are what he has pressed for over the years. But he contends that it is both too narrow in scope — starting with just 25 of some 8,000 drugs and doubling after that — and wrong to exclude people lacking health insurance.
In debate Wednesday, Doggett voted against the rule sending the bill to the floor with none of the amendments that he and more than two dozen allies pressed for.
“For those who are insured or rely on insulin, or for those who are fortunate enough to win the lottery to have their drug negotiated, this is a valuable piece of legislation. But for 30 million Americans who are uninsured, they are denied any guarantee of lower prices,” he said.
“My goal has never been to turn this bill to the right or to the left but to provide assurances to those have been left out by it,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Denton, offered the view of many in his party when he argued that the penalties for drug companies that fail to reduce costs as demanded by the Health and Human Services Department in negotiations would lead to less drug research and innovation.
“This is akin to a hostage situation,” he said.
The bill is called the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019, named for the powerful and respected Maryland Democrat who died in October.
The advocacy group Public Citizen on Wednesday said it was disappointed in bill’s limitations but said of Doggett: “One member of Congress stands out for having championed access to medicines through the session…Doggett’s bill helped set the terms of the debate, giving Congress courage to begin taking a stand against corporate price gouging.”
Democrats, aware of how health-care issues vaulted the party to 2018 election victories, are working closely on those issues this cycle.
But heading into 2020, polling suggests that most Americans think neither party is looking out for them when it comes to health insurance, and the White House is doing more than the Democrats. A Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll last month found that 22 percent said the Trump administration is “doing enough” on health care; 17 percent said Democrats meet that measure.
Timed with the House vote this week, the Democratic Party and several state parties in 2020 battlegrounds are putting up web videos and coordinating events to gain momentum and counter the Republican refrain that Democrats are unified in supporting Medicare for All, which the GOP presents as an embrace of Socialism.
Democrats are eager, too, to present themselves as being active on issues besides impeachment, also agreeing this week on the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.
On health care, despite the messaging, prospects of bipartisan success appear diminished, with the Senate proceeding on a separate track and many Republicans in that chamber signaling that they are opposed to negotiating with the Democrat-led House.