Four Democrats Introduce Senate Bill to Allow HHS to Block "Excessive" Drug Price Increases

Yesterday, 4 senators introduced a bill on the Senate floor that would allow HHS to block drug price increases that it deems as “excessive.”

Yesterday, Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Kamala Harris, D-California, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, introduced a bill on the Senate floor, S. 3754, that would allow HHS to block drug price increases that it deems as “excessive.”

The bill, dubbed “A bill to prohibit price gouging in the sale of drugs,” is just the latest in a series of actions that Congressmen and the government alike have taken to address high drug prices.

In May 2018, the Trump administration released the “American Patients First” blueprint which contained 4 main strategies for decreasing drug prices, including increased competition, better negotiation, incentives for lower list prices, and reducing out-of-pocket costs. Since the release of the blueprint, the FDA approved more generic drugs in July 2018 than in any single month in its history.

Additionally, in July 2018 the FDA also released its Biosimilar Action Plan. The plan sought to improve the efficiency of the biosimilar development and approval process and support market competition through the reduction of anti-competitive practices that unfairly delay market entry. In 2018 alone, the FDA has approved 6 biosimilars of rituximab, epoetin alfa, adalimumab, pegfilgrastim, and filgrastim.

The administration took further action in October 2018 when HHS Secretary Alex Azar proposed requiring drug companies to include the list price of a drug paid for by Medicare or Medicaid in direct-to-consumer television advertising.

The proposal was met with pushback from industry trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), when it announced that instead of including the list price within the advertisement, it would launch a “new platform that would provide patients, caregivers, and providers with cost and financial assistance information for brand-name medicines, as well as other patient support resources.” PhRMA also made clear to HHS that if such a requirement was made, it would raise significant legal questions, including First Amendment concerns.

Though 2018 has seen significant focus on reducing drug prices, more action is sure to come in 2019. According to Reuters, Democrat House of Representatives leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has promised to continue to work to tackle the issue of high drug prices when the newly-elected House is sworn in in January 2019.

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