McConnell throws cold water on bills to control drug prices, rein in surprise medical billing

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says divisions within his Republican caucus are keeping the Senate from taking up bills to control drug prices and surprise medical billing.

The Kentuckian spoke “hours after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he is gathering GOP support for his bill (S. 2543), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) insisted that senators also get a chance to vote on House Democrats’ Medicare drug-price negotiation plan if the Senate takes up-drug pricing legislation,” John Wilkerson reports for Inside Health Policy.
McConnell said, “We have internal divisions within my party in the Senate on both the Grassley bill and the bill that came out of the HELP committee on surprise billing,” referring to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Wilkerson reports, “Legislation to control drug prices and curb surprise billing are supposed to help pay for renewing a group of popular health care programs called the ‘extenders,’ and McConnell said the Memorial Day deadline for funding those programs will ‘generate another discussion’ on both policies. However, he said the division within the Republican party and between the two parties makes it difficult to get a deal on drug pricing.”

The House has passed a bill to let Medicare negotiate drug prices using international prices as a reference, and Senate Democrats support it. “The House bill is more aggressive than the Senate Finance bill, which would let drug companies continue setting launch prices but would make companies pay the government back when prices rise faster than inflation,” Wilkerson reports.

“We’ve also told Leader McConnell that if he wants to bring any drug pricing proposal to the floor for a vote, we will demand a vote on H.R. 3,” Schumer said.

During the markup of the Senate drug pricing bill (S. 2543), Finance Committee Ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (OR) said Democrats planned to tie a vote on drug pricing legislation to a vote on letting Medicare negotiate drug prices. Democrats also insisted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allow a vote on preexisting conditions legislation prior to a floor debate on drug pricing. — John Wilkerson