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Trump Oversight Troubles Bleed Into Drug Pricing Debate

May 3, 2019, 9:36 AM

Fights about investigations into the Trump administration in the House Oversight Committee are seeping into its bipartisan work on drug pricing.

Three other House committees with jurisdiction over drug pricing legislation—Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, and Ways and Means—have each passed bills in preparation for a floor vote. Meanwhile, the chairman and ranking member of the Oversight Committee are trading barbs over information requests.

Lawmakers typically rely on information from industry and interest groups to create legislation. The House Oversight Committee is an investigative committee and has limited legislative authority. But its chairman, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), is known to conduct oversight with the goal of writing legislation. Any disputes over what types of information to collect could hamper the committee’s ability to get useful data, which in turn could hurt the development of a bipartisan drug pricing package.

Cummings in January requested information from 12 drug companies on their pricing practices. Last month ranking Republican Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) sent letters to those same companies alerting them that Cummings has in the past released information without consulting them. The letters were interpreted by some, including Cummings, as warnings to the drug companies not to cooperate.

Meadows and Jordan have since contacted at least two of the companies to clarify that their letters weren’t meant to discourage them from responding to the committee’s inquiries, a drug industry source with knowledge of the investigation said. Jordan confirmed he had spoken with the drug companies but didn’t say what they spoke about.

Jordan said in an interview April 30 his intention was to make sure the drug companies understood the context of the investigation, and he defended sending the letters.

‘Slows Things Down’

Cummings said in an interview that the back and forth makes it difficult to gather basic information. “I think we will get through it. It just slows things down.”

According to Jordan and Meadows’ letters to the drug companies, Cummings didn’t consult with them before launching this investigation.

“I’m all for bipartisan efforts that are going to actually help consumers and bring down the price of prescription drugs, which we want to do, I don’t think that’s what’s going on on this committee,” Jordan said in an interview.

Other Committees

There is less animosity on other committees on drug pricing. Bipartisanship “needs to be the focus” on that issue, Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Republican Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in an interview.

That sentiment is mirrored in the Senate. “The taxpayers spend so much money on drugs that we’ve got to know what they cost, we got to take some secrecy out of it,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in an interview. Grassley’s spokesperson said the committee expects full cooperation from the drug companies.

Two of the more active Democrats on the drug-pricing issue, Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), said they weren’t worried either.

“We’re not gonna be unified on everything, but let’s find the places where we are unified,” Welch said in an interview.

He added that Jordan and Meadows shouldn’t have sent the letters, “but we’re not going to stop Jordan and Meadows from doing their thing.”

“We need to keep reaching out and discussing” working together on drug pricing, Doggett said in an interview.

“I don’t believe that we’re going to get unanimous support for anything that truly lowers prices for people,” but that’s not due to this fight between Cummings and Jordan, Doggett said.

All 12 companies committed to complying with the Oversight Committee’s requests in January, and they have been producing information on a rolling basis, although some are further along than others, a senior Democratic aide on the House Oversight Committee told Bloomberg Law.

After Jordan sent his letters to the drug companies, several expressed surprise and concern, the aide said. However, no company said it would refuse to cooperate, and the committee continues to expect full compliance.

—With assistance from Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporter on this story: Shira Stein in Washington at sstein@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Brent Bierman at bbierman@bloomberglaw.com