A bill designed to lower prescription drug costs — and named in honor of Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings — is being enthusiastically pushed by Nevada congressional Reps. Steven Horsford and Susie Lee.
In a call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Horsford and Lee were also confident their Democratic House colleagues will support H.R.3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which is scheduled to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday.
That confidence appeared to be borne out later in the day, when Progressive Caucus leaders announced they had won more concessions from their fellow Democrats.
In their call with reporters Tuesday, Lee called the bill “a common sense solution” while Horsford said its passage would be proof that Congress is “putting people over pharma profits once and for all.”
The bill, a top priority for House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices and save Medicare at least $345 billion over seven years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a substantial sum Horsford said Democrats plan to reinvest by expanding coverage into dental, vision, and hearing.
The bill has faced pushback from the House Progressive Caucus, led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and Mark Pocan (WI-02), who earlier this year warned that the caucus of 98 members had whipped up enough votes to stall the bill if key progressive priorities were not included. Horsford is a member of the Progressive Caucus, although he and Lee are both members of the New Democrat Coalition, which is made up of more centrist Democrats and describes its mission as “seeking to bridge the gap between left and right.”
Averting a split, the Progressive Caucus announced late Tuesday night they were able to reach a deal with Democratic leadership to include a number of their provisions, including an amendment from Jayapal that would prevent drug companies from spiking prices for profit and a provision from Pocan doubling the minimum number of negotiated drugs from 25 to 50 drugs per year, up to a maximum of 250 drugs per year.
House progressives had been hoping the bill would also make uninsured people eligible for lower rates and eliminate altogether a ban on Medicare negotiating for drug prices. The ban was enacted in 2003 when Medicare was expanded to cover prescription drugs.
“The improvements agreed upon this afternoon, coupled with changes made earlier this year, have made this bill significantly stronger for the American people. Our goal has always been to expand the scope of this legislation so more families could benefit from lower drug prices,” wrote the House Progressive Caucus in a statement.
“This is a huge victory for the American people! When we stick together, fight hard and with principle, we help improve lives for millions of people,” wrote Jayapal on Twitter.
On the Tuesday call with reporters, when asked about the progressives’ efforts to strengthen the bill, Horsford said, “All I have to say is that as we move forward we are hoping that all members of the House Democratic caucus work together to put this over with a very strong vote in the House.”
Both Horsford and Lee campaigned last year promising to address sky-rocketing prescription drug prices. Passage of the bill would be a solid step in fulfilling that pledge, while also demonstrating progress on public priorities even as Democrats proceed with impeachment.
Horsford and Lee are in congressional districts Republicans hope to flip from blue to red. The GOP believes Lee in particular could be vulnerable in 2020, since Donald Trump won her congressional district, Nevada’s 3rd, in the 2016 presidential election.
Earlier this year, Horsford and other Democrats expressed cautious optimism that President Donald Trump’s stated willingness to do something about drug prices might translate into support for the legislation from the Republican controlled Senate. But arguing it would hinder the development of new drugs, Trump has since come out against the bill, effectively ending any chance the Senate will pass the legislation.
“I’m casting my vote for Joey Douglas, a 13-year-old who suffers from debilitating asthma,” Horsford said Tuesday in support of the bill. “Earlier this year Joey told me his mom is forced to skip car payments and other essentials in order to cover the cost of his care.”
The average price of asthma medication has risen 56 percent between 2013 and 2018, from 300 to nearly 500 dollars, Horsford said.
“On Thursday we are telling the American people that we value them more than big pharma. We are putting people over pharma profits once and for all.”
Lee said she has received over 1,200 letters and phone calls from constituents about prescription drug prices, reading one of the letters to reporters from a senior citizen who is diabetic and was informed that the price of her insulin would be increased by 400 percent.
Lee touted a provisions that will exclude covered retirement accounts from counting as income for the purpose of determining eligibility under the Medicare Part D low income subsidy program, and would cap prescription drug expenses for seniors while expanding eligibility.
“This is a great step forward,” Horsford said of the measure. “The pharmaceutical industry is not happy we made this much progress.”