House Panels to Consider Drug Price Plans
Two House committees this week will hold markups of legislation empowering the government to negotiate with drugmakers and mark prices for medications in the U.S. relative to their cost in other countries.
The House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees will each debate legislation similar to a drug pricing bill that passed the House in 2019. The bill would allow the government to demand much-lower prices for up to 250 medicines currently on the market.
The government negotiation change would generate more than $450 billion in savings to the government and is paired in this package with a penalty for drugmakers that increase the price of their drugs and a repeal of a Trump-era drug rebate policy that could cut government spending further. The Ways and Means Committee also proposed making permanent a two-year expansion of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance subsidies started earlier this year.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s reconciliation measure proposes to extend the ACA’s tax credits for the first time to millions of people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid in states that haven’t expanded their public health insurance programs until 2025.
The committee’s proposal would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to hire third-party entities to operate these federal Medicaid plans in non-expansion states. The plans would closely mirror the benefit package and beneficiary protections of the Medicaid expansion under the ACA.
There would also be a new maintenance of effort requirement to encourage states that have already expanded Medicaid not to fall back on this new federal program. Democrats are also proposing to pump money into reinsurance programs to lower ACA marketplace premiums by 7%.
Moderate Democratic Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) introduced their own drug pricing bill Friday. The measure would place a means-tested cap on out-of-pocket costs for drugs for Medicare beneficiaries. This would punish manufacturers that raise the price of a drug beyond the inflation rate for drugs in Medicare Part B and D. It would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices in Part B for products that no longer have exclusivity and for which there is no competition on the market.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Friday approved by a 24-19 vote it’s reconciliation measure to grant vision, hearing and dental benefits to Medicare beneficiaries. Vision coverage is to begin in 2022 under the proposal, hearing aids would be covered starting in 2023. Dental coverage would be phased in from 2028-2032.
The panel also approved a slate of elder-care measures on Friday. The committee approved elder justice legislation by a 24-18 vote and a nursing home bill by a 24-17 vote. Rep. Murphy was the only Democrat to vote no, joining all Republicans. The quality of nursing home care has come under question since last year, when Covid-19 hit seniors in long-term care facilities the hardest. The virus killed more than 186,000 residents and staff of nursing homes, according to an AARP database.
The committee’s proposal would open up $400 million in grants per year for three years to bolster pay for nursing home workers and help long-term care facilities retain staff through student loan repayment or child-care programs. It would empower the government to reduce payments to nursing homes that lie to authorities about their number of workers to hide understaffed facilities. The package would create ombudsman programs to flag elder abuse and neglect.
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