Michigan Dems vote for landmark U.S. House prescription pricing bill

Pharmacist Hank Wedemeyer fills prescriptions as generic diabetes medicine awaits distribution at a community health center for low-income patients on December 1, 2009 in Aurora, Colorado. | John Moore/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed a landmark health care measure Thursday that proponents say would dramatically reduce the rising cost of prescription drugs and significantly expand access to health care benefits and services.

The sweeping legislation passed largely along party lines, with 230 lawmakers voting for it and 192 against. Only two House Republicans voted for the bill — U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. 

U.S.. Rep. Haley Stevens | Andrew Roth

“Today is a beacon of hope for so many families who have been burdened by the outrageous cost of prescription drugs in this country,” U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, a freshman Democrat from Rochester Hills, said on the House floor.

The cost of prescription drugs has soared in recent years, and Americans pay more for drugs than do residents of other wealthy countries. 

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) said at a press conference, “I really don’t think there’s any reason that our Republican colleagues would oppose this. … It is exactly what President Trump promised on the campaign trail.” 

But the Michigan delegation was split, with all seven Democrats voting for the legislation and U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) voting no along with all six Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton | Andrew Roth

On the U.S. House floor on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Sst. Joseph) declared, “Governments don’t negotiate; they dictate.”

In Michigan, the average annual cost of prescription drug treatment rose almost 60% between 2012 and 2017, far more than the 11% increase in Michiganders’ average annual income over the same time, according to an analysis by AARP. Almost one-third of residents stopped taking drugs as prescribed because they couldn’t afford them.

“There is a reason that we pay nearly four times more for prescription drugs than other industrialized nations. They use negotiation to lower prescription drug prices. We don’t,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) said on the House floor Thursday: 

U.S. drug prices are especially high in large part because the federal government doesn’t negotiate lower prices with drug companies, experts say — but the bill passed Thursday would enable it to do so. 

Under the bill, lower prices would be available to all consumers, not just beneficiaries of Medicare, the government insurance program serving Americans over age 65 and some younger adults with certain disabilities or who have kidney failure.

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The bill would also bar drug companies from charging Americans significantly more than they charge consumers in other countries for the same drugs and from raising prices at rates higher than inflation. And it would cap out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs at $2,000 and expand Medicare coverage to include vision, hearing and dental benefits. 

Savings from lower drug costs — which Democrats said would amount to $500 billion over 10 years — would also be invested in biomedical research, efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, home visitation programs for women and children, and health centers targeting underserved people.

Republicans objected to the legislation, calling it — in the words of GOP U.S. Rep. George Holding of North Carolina — a “bad deal” for Americans.

He and other Republicans said regulating drug prices would suppress innovation in biomedical research and stall the development of life-saving drugs and treatments. 

“It’s simply a chance we cannot afford to take,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.). 

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Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania rejected the argument, saying Wednesday that drug prices are going up not because of the cost of research and development, but because “drugmakers are jacking up prices wherever and whenever they can maximize their profits.”

Republicans also said the bill would reduce the number of drugs and treatments available on the U.S. market and force Americans to wait longer to access them.

As an alternative, they offered a smaller-scale proposal that would not “impose price controls” but would lower out-of-pocket spending and increase transparency while protecting access to new medicines and encouraging competition. 

Most Americans think prescription drugs are too expensive, polls show, and one in four insured adults has difficulty paying for them. Majorities favor efforts to reduce their cost — including allowing the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies.

The Democratic-led bill that passed the U.S. House Thursday is not expected to clear the GOP-controlled Senate, and President Donald Trump has threatened to veto it.

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The White House said it would “likely undermine access to lifesaving drugs” and cited a report by the Council of Economic Advisers, an executive branch agency, that found that it could lead to the loss or significant delay in the development of as many as 100 new medicines. 

But Democrats accused Trump — who pledged in 2016 to “negotiate like crazy” for lower drug prices — of backpedaling on his campaign promise. “Trump promised in 2016 he would work to lower drug prices,” U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the floor Thursday. “For that reason, he ought to support it.”