Senate Finance Committee Chairman
The drug industry has been pouring resources into researching new therapies as the pandemic wreaks havoc on Americans’ health and the country’s economy. That has helped quiet a long-running debate over rising prescription costs, as policy makers prioritize finding treatments and helping businesses safely re-open.
“There’s no better time to address this issue,” said Grassley, an Iowa Republican and a co-sponsor of the drug-price legislation, in an interview on Monday. Grassley pointed to the need to prepare for future pandemics and keep “bad actors” in the drug industry “from hiking prices astronomically” in future health crises.
If the bill doesn’t pass, Grassley worries drugmakers will charge “whatever they want to” for Covid-19 products.
“It will be the Wild West,” he said.
Grassley said he asked President
Trump, who has previously supported the bill, gave an “emphatic yes,” according to Grassley, who said he will meet with top leadership at the White House within days to hatch a plan for pushing forward.
The White House didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Grassley said Trump’s support will be key as Senate Majority Leader
Senate Majority Whip
“Both sides will end up using this issue in the election rather than focusing on getting a result before the election,” Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said during a videoconference hosted by Bloomberg Government.
Grassley said action to lower drug prices is critical for Senate Republicans to hold their majority in the chamber. Republicans currently hold 53 seats, and 23 are up for re-election.
“I think the main factor that’s going to drive this is, No. 1, the president, and No. 2, senators that are up for election, particularly ones in tough states, putting pressure on McConnell to bring this bill up,” Grassley said. “They’re going to need this if we’re going to keep a majority.”
Grassley said the pharmaceutical industry sees the pandemic as an opportunity to stymie Congressional efforts to tame drug prices.
“They’ve got the marketplace working exactly the way they want it,” Grassley said.
Steve Ubl, chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the world’s largest drugmakers, said lawmakers have signaled a greater appreciation for an industry that’s “working around the clock” to combat the pandemic.
“Drug pricing discussions will come back around,” Ubl said, “and our focus will be on advancing a balanced discussion that lowers costs for patients and hopefully avoids some of the more draconian policies that we’ve seen debated.”
“Our industry is committed to making treatments accessible and affordable for those who need them -- including treatments for eradicating the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Brian Newell, a spokesman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “We look forward to continuing our work with policy makers on responsible reforms to lower what patients pay out of pocket for prescription drugs.”
In March, Grassley and Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking member on the Finance Committee, released an analysisfrom the Congressional Budget Office that found their prescription-drug bill would save taxpayers $95 billion over the next decade. Those savings will be all the more important in the wake of economic devastation caused by the pandemic, Grassley said.
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