Underwood backs Medicare negotiation on most expensive drugs
A bill passed by the U.S. House last week to lower the costs of prescription drugs will be a highlight of U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood's reelection campaign in the 14th Congressional District. But it has little chance of becoming law in its present form.
Lowering drug costs was a major plank of the campaign platform Underwood, a Naperville Democrat, used to unseat Republican Randy Hultgren in 2018. Last week, Underwood voted in support of the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The bill passed the House with unanimous support from Democrats and two Republicans.
The most controversial aspect of the bill allows the federal government to negotiate prices on 25 to 250 of the most expensive drugs for the first time. People on Medicare and private insurance would have access to the lower prices, but people without insurance would not. Medicare would negotiate the rates based on the average cost of the same drugs in other countries.
"Prescription drugs don't work if you can't afford them," Underwood said. "My priority is making sure those prices are negotiated by (Medicare) on behalf of all Americans, including people with private insurance. This is an idea we've heard championed by the president. At the State of the Union, he stood in the House chamber and asked us to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. This bill delivers that."
Through Trump campaigned on drug price negotiations, he has vowed to veto the measure. That will likely be unnecessary as Senate Republicans have said they won't take up the bill. Both the Senate and House Republicans are working on their own versions of prescription drug relief.
Underwood said the full value of the Democrats' bill might come in the form of a framework for a meeting of the minds between the two political parties. Underwood highlighted a provision in the House bill that caps out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients at $2,000 per year. The Republican Senate bill caps it at $3,100, a sign both parties are interested in limits.
"Is that an area of disagreement? Yes," Underwood said. "Are we that far apart? No. So when they pass their bill, we'll have an opportunity to go to that conference committee and negotiate the differences."
Another major provision of the House bill calls for drugmakers to give rebates to the government for any prices that rise faster than the rate of inflation.
The three provisions would all have major impacts on drug company profits. The companies cite the losses as a major threat to the development of new drugs.
Underwood doesn't see that as a major threat to medical innovation. She cites legislation to provide five years of sustained funding to the National Institutes of Health, Veterans Affairs and the research division of the Defense Department as reasons there will be no noticeable drop in research.
"These federal agencies often are doing the basic research that leads to cures and advanced development," Underwood said. "It's incredibly important that we have robust investment in research and development. While the pharmaceutical companies will not be able to price gouge the American people, we'll have increased transparency and accountability around drug pricing."
Underwood's 14th District includes parts of DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.