House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is optimistic that legislation to lower the rising costs of prescription drugs will be possible this Congress.

Cummings said in a Jan. 30 interview that his enthusiasm comes from the fact that President Donald Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and House Democrats are on board with addressing the issue. Grassley is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which also has jurisdiction over drug pricing.

“We cannot let this moment go by, when you’ve got all of these people coming together,” Cummings said.

Cummings remarks came one day after his committee members struggled to find consensus in a hearing on drug pricing. Although the committee and witnesses discussed many potential solutions, they frequently diverged in where they would address the high cost of prescription drugs.

Cummings said he is focused on keeping the pressure on all these stakeholders in Congress and the administration, and that he plans to organize a meeting for all of them to discuss potential solutions soon.

“You’ve got a lot of Republicans that wanna see something happen. And I want to see if we can’t all get together and say, okay, well what can we agree on? And get something done,” Cummings said.

“It’s important because there’s no need for us... to be in the same book, but not on the same page,” he added.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said in an interview, “Chairman Cummings and the president’s overall goals are in line” on reducing drug prices.

“The tactics on how to get there would require both Republicans and Democrats to compromise from their ideological points of view to make sure that that happens, i.e., FDA regulations and fast-tracking some pharmaceuticals,” he said.

Meadows is chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Meadows said he and Cummings “can have real meaningful discussions and find areas of agreement” and that he could see the Trump administration and Cummings get on the same page for some smaller legislative areas, but not on a comprehensive approach.

Cummings noted the dire situation that patients are facing. He pointed to the the testimony of Antroinette Worsham, whose daughter died at age 22 after rationing her insulin, and whose other daughter may face the same problem.

Patients are “still trying to figure out whether they’re gonna fill a prescription or eat or pay rent or die,” Cummings said.

Cummings also said he sees the possibility of working with some of the Republican members of his committee.

Two of the members, Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), have “been through traumatic medical situations,” Cummings said, “so I’m trying to take their experiences and I’m hoping those are the type of people who will help us lead the way.”

Common Ground on Patents

Members of the committee on both sides of the aisle pointed to patent reform and taking action against market abuses as a potential place to work together.

“One of the opportunities that I sense from both sides of the aisle is patent reform,” Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) said. “You would have protections for innovative products under the intellectual property laws, but that you couldn’t game the system.”

The committee’s ranking Republican, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), said after the hearing he was interested in some of the ideas Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) mentioned during the hearing. Jordan didn’t provide specifics, but Welch discussed stopping pharmaceutical companies from exploiting their ability to keep drug prices high, including evergreening and pay-for-delay, among many other ideas.

Evergreening is a practice where brand-name drug manufacturers patent slight modifications of old drugs as a new invention to prevent generic competition. Pay-for-delay settlements are legal agreements between a brand-name drug manufacturer and a generic competitor in which the generic competitor agrees to wait to market a generic drug, typically in exchange for a payment from the brand-name manufacturer.

Welch said his colleagues were “talking very sympathetically about taking action against market abuse” and he’s going to try to get some Republican cosponsors for any potential legislation. Welch wants to see some legislation introduced next, and he could be the one to present it in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he is also a member.

More Hearings

Two Democrats on the panel, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif) and Rouda, both said they expected more hearings.

“Next time I want those folks, the pharmaceutical executives, there to hear these stories,” Khanna said, referring to the testimony of Worsham.

“The testimony of Ms. Worsham, I’ve been thinking about that. It haunts me that $333 a month could have saved a 22-year-old’s life,” Cummings said.

“We need more testimonies like the mother. I mean, my heart broke for her,” Khanna said.

Khanna said he wasn’t concerned about more hearings slowing down legislation.

“We have to build a case and we have to explain and let the American people know why this is so pressing. I think the hearings help us build that case, and I’m confident we’re gonna have legislation this year,” he said.

—With assistance from Alex Ruoff