Democrats forge ahead on drug pricing, considering broader deal with Manchin

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Democratic leaders have finalized a revised proposal to cut prescription drug prices for seniors, part of a broader rush to satisfy Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and resurrect an economic package to the point death that they hope to advance this summer. .

The development follows weeks of very private talks between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and Manchin, a recalcitrant centrist whose spending concerns scuttled a known earlier bill under the name of Build Back Better Act. It positions Democrats to reinvigorate a key part of the legislative process around their agenda, even as they tussle with the West Virginia lawmaker over other plans to cut health care costs and tackle climate change.

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The revamped prescription drug pricing proposal is largely similar to the plan Democrats introduced last year, according to three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the deliberations. It generally empowers the U.S. government to negotiate the price of certain drugs on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries, a move Democrats say will lower costs in years to come.

Under the proposal, drug negotiations are expected to begin in 2023, according to details obtained by The Washington Post. Democrats also kept plans to cap Medicare senior drug costs at $2,000 a year, while penalizing companies that raise prescription prices faster than inflation.

For the first time, however, Democrats are aiming to close what they see as a loophole that could have allowed future administrations to refrain from negotiating aggressively, according to the documents. The move is intended to ensure that the government still seeks to keep drug prices low even if Washington’s control changes, as Republicans have long opposed such bargaining powers, said one of the people familiar with the matter. Democrats also plan to extend additional support to a wider range of low-income seniors, hoping to help them pay their premiums and co-payments.

Manchin has publicly supported his party’s latest attempt to lower drug prices for the elderly. Since then, he has repeatedly said he remains committed to the idea, especially as costs across the economy rise. Despite his comments, however, other Democrats remained concerned about his preferences – a reflection of the tumultuous, changing and long negotiations between moderate West Virginia and members of his own party.

Democrats still hope to pass the drug pricing plan as part of a larger economic package that they would push through the narrowly divided Senate using the process known as reconciliation. The move allows the party to avoid a GOP filibuster — but only if all Democrats, including Manchin, band together with the help of Vice President Harris’ deciding vote.

Privately, Schumer told members of his caucus that a quick resolution would allow them to introduce a new bill in late July, one of the sources said. To achieve that goal, Democrats plan to present their new drug pricing proposal as early as this week to the Senate Congressman, the sources said. This seemingly bureaucratic step has immense implications: The House Rules Officer has great influence in determining whether lawmakers’ plans meet strict reconciliation rules, which limit legislation to proposals that have a direct impact on the budget.

The process is long and complex, and if the drug pricing proposal fails to fall within the safeguards, it could lead to its complete exclusion from the Democrats’ final measure. Similar fears hung over the party’s attempts to meet drug costs last year, particularly their proposals to cap the price of insulin, the fate of which remains uncertain as bipartisan talks are still ongoing.

Sam Runyon, a spokesman for Manchin, said in a statement that the senator “has long advocated proposals that would reduce prescription drug costs for seniors and his support for this proposal has never wavered.” question. He’s glad all 50 Democrats agree.

A spokesperson for Schumer declined to comment, referring to the Democratic leader’s comments last week that the two men had “very good and productive talks” although “there are still issues to work out.”

The renewed effort of the Democrats to resuscitate their agenda reflects the political and economic urgency of the moment. For more than a year, party lawmakers have been scrambling to keep promises they made in the last election, including promises to cut drug costs. But they have largely been unable to do so, blocked by one of their own members — an opposition that many Democrats fear will cost them control of Congress in November.

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Manchin a maintained spending resistance as much as the Democrats initially sought in their proposal known as the Build Back Better Act, which was once valued at around $2 trillion. He argued that such spending could add to debt and worsen inflation when costs are already skyrocketing. The senator’s stance has put him at odds with others in his party, who argue their original bill was paid entirely with new federal revenue and could have helped families deal with their greatest sources of stress. financial.

Yet Democrats can’t move forward without Manchin’s vote, a reality that has already forced them to sacrifice some of their most prized proposals, including those to provide free preschool, cut the cost of services care, to offer less expensive care for the elderly, allow national paid family and medical leave, and invest heavily in housing. They are now exploring a much smaller package, which largely focuses on cutting drug costs, investing in green energy and making changes to the tax code that can help reduce the deficit.

Many of those areas remain unresolved in talks between Manchin and Schumer, including a plan to extend enhanced subsidies to millions of Americans who buy health insurance through national exchanges originally set up by law. on affordable care, the sources said. Without a resolution, more than 13 million people could see their premiums go up next year.

With drug pricing, Democrats have again moved to guarantee access to all free vaccines for Medicare seniors, who currently do not receive such benefits, according to plan details seen by The Post. It further extends premium and copayment assistance to a larger share of low-income older Americans. And the initiative aims to spur investment in generic drugs that could provide seniors with additional savings, the sources said.

In the meantime, Democrats have sought to work with Republicans on a separate, standalone measure to provide financial relief for people with diabetes. The House this spring passed a bill to cap insulin costs, and the senses. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) published its own proposal this month which brings additional revisions to the system. Schumer has pledged to get him through, though it’s unclear if he can win the support of at least 10 Senate Republicans to avoid a filibuster.

Rachel Roubein contributed to this report.

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