Cantwell, Senate Finance Committee Pass Bipartisan Bill to Lower Seniors’ Prescription Drug Costs

Legislation now heads to the full Senate, would save Medicare Part D beneficiaries $31 billion in reduced prescription drug copays, premiums; Committee approves Cantwell-authored provisions to protect seniors from high out-of-pocket drug costs, expand transparency into drug industry middlemen, investigate drug shortages

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today voted in favor of legislation that would take a first step to lower prescription drug prices for millions of Americans. The legislation, passed by the Senate Finance Committee, would allow Medicare to get a better price on prescription drugs and includes a number of provisions authored or introduced by Cantwell to lower costs and increase transparency for consumers. 

“This bill is a first step toward lowering prescription drug prices in Washington state,” said Senator Cantwell. “It would help 830,000 Washingtonians by reducing what seniors pay at the pharmacy counter and shining a light on the drug industry, all while saving taxpayers money in the process.” 

The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA) of 2019 would modernize and improve prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part B, Part D, and Medicaid. Under the bill, if a drug manufacturer that sells to Medicare chooses to raise their price above the rate of inflation, they are required to pay back the difference. The bill would also strengthen state Medicaid programs’ ability to receive bigger discounts from drug manufacturers who choose to sell to Medicaid. 

The bill also includes provisions that Senator Cantwell authored or introduced that would:

  • Protect Medicare Part D beneficiaries from annual out-of-pocket drug costs above $3,100, ensuring that seniors who require expensive or specialty drugs are financially protected. This provision is similar to the Reducing Existing Costs Associated with Pharmaceuticals for Seniors (RxCAP) Act (S. 475), which Senator Cantwell co-sponsored with Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR);
  • Increase transparency into the practices of prescription drug middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) by allowing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice to access confidential data on PBM business practices; and
  • Require that the Secretary of Health and Human Services investigate drug shortages within the Medicare program.

During the Committee’s debate on the bill, Cantwell and her Democratic colleagues voted to pass an amendment giving Medicare full negotiating authority to lower drug prices for seniors, but the amendment was not adopted. According to a recent analysis by AARP, Medicare could have saved $14.4 billion on just 50 drugs in 2016 if the program had paid the same prices as the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is able to negotiate on prescription drug prices. Cantwell will continue to push to allow Medicare to directly negotiate lower drug prices to further drive down health care costs.

“I can’t help but think about the farm kid from Iowa and the Gray Panther from the Pacific Northwest somehow shaking their proverbial fist at big drug pricing,” Cantwell said in reference to Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Wyden at today’s committee meeting. “So, this member certainly appreciates your David vs. Goliath approach in working together in a bipartisan fashion.”

An independent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that over ten years the legislation would save taxpayers more than $100 billion in Medicare and Medicaid. Additionally, CBO found that the bill would lower Medicare Part D beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs by $25 billion and lower Part D premiums by $6 billion. CBO also said the bill would lower drug costs in the commercial health insurance market.

The majority of Americans believe that prescription drug costs are unreasonable, and in 2018, Americans spent an all-time high of $360 billion on prescription drugs. According to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey, 30 percent of Americans who experienced an increase in the price of one or more medications left a prescription unfilled because it was too expensive. More than 80 percent of seniors across party lines back Cantwell’s plan to give the government the authority to negotiate prices in Medicare, especially for high-cost drugs with no competition.

Cantwell has long supported efforts to drive down prescription drug prices. Earlier this month, she called for a prescription drug pricing solution that meaningfully lowers prices, protects consumers from unjustified price increases, and preserves beneficiary access to care across both Medicare and Medicaid. In April, she joined Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in introducing legislation to require the FTC to study competition among PBMs. In January, she joined Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to introduce bills to empower Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors and allow Americans to import safe, low-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

Learn more about the legislation HERE. Video from today’s committee meeting can be downloaded HERE, and audio can be downloaded HERE