A powerful U.S. House health subcommittee has invited U.S. health secretary Xavier Becerra to brief it next week about his department’s discretionary budget request for the coming fiscal year, and to discuss how they might collaborate on lowering drug prices and health care costs. Becerra also could be asked about the 340B program during the hearing.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and E&C Health Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced the May 12 hearing with Becerra. The E&C committee has jurisdiction over the 340B program.
The announcement came on the same day as a subcommittee hearing on H.R. 3, House Democrats’ main bill to lower drug costs; H.R. 19, the main House Republican alternative to H.R. 3; and six other House bills to increase competition in prescription drug markets. H.R. 19 includes language, strongly opposed by 340B covered entity groups, that would make it impossible for entities to earn revenue on 340B purchased drugs billed to Medicaid managed care organizations. Apart from that, none of the other big drug pricing bills now circulating in Congress are known to include significant provisions affecting 340B.
What Congress and the Biden administration can do to reduce what patients and the government spend on prescription drugs is expected to be discussed at length during next week’s hearing. “This hearing will…provide us an opportunity to discuss with Secretary Becerra ways we can work together to lower the cost of health care, expand coverage, and rein in the soaring cost of prescription drugs,” Pallone and Eshoo said in a news release about the hearing.
Many congressional Democrats are unhappy that President Biden did not include provisions to reduce drug costs in his American Families human capital investment proposal. Biden, in his speech about the plan last week to a joint session of Congress, urged lawmakers to act this year to “give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs.” The odds of getting such a bill through Congress, however, are much better if the bill is folded into a bigger legislative bundle such as a bill to enact Biden’s American Families plan.
“As President Biden noted last week during his joint address to Congress, it is long past time that Americans are no longer saddled with higher drug costs than people in other countries,” Pallone said in his opening statement during Tuesday’s hearing on H.R. 3 and the other drug pricing bills. “It is long past time to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for the American people. I look forward to moving H.R. 3 through the committee once again and for it to become law this year as the President suggested.”
During a webcast yesterday with New Jersey health care advocates, Pallone said of H.R. 3, “We think we can get this passed.”
“We have a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, albeit by not that much. And we have a Democratic president,” he said. “We would like to get Republican support, but support in both houses seems to be very limited to transparency and things of that nature, certainly not negotiated prices. So that’s the problem.”
“We’re just going to see whatever vehicle we can,” he said. “We would like to have Republican support, and we’ll get some. But the key to the Republicans is they don’t want negotiated prices. So we’ll have to see whatever vehicle I can to get this done.”