Democrats Disagree About How to Spend Potential Prescription Drug Windfall

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After a year of uncharacteristically being on the same page when it comes to health care, Democratic lawmakers are at loggerheads about what to do next. Most agree the time is ripe to tackle high d…
One of the few surprises in President Joe Biden's social safety-net proposal, the American Families Plan, was something that didn't make it into the final version: any mention of reining in the price of prescription drugs.

About 'HealthBent' KHN's chief Washington correspondent, Julie Rovner, who has covered health care for more than 30 years, offers insight and analysis of policies and politics in her regular HealthBent columns.

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The American Families Plan, the second part of Biden's expansive "infrastructure" agenda, includes sweeping programs aimed at boosting access to child care, higher education and paid family leave. But despite White House signals in March that health also would be a major part of the package, the only health proposal was one that would make permanent the temporary subsidy increases, passed as part of the covid relief bill earlier this spring, on insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act's health exchanges.

Initial reports suggest that Biden and his aides did not want to pick a fight now with the powerful prescription drug industry, which is riding high in public opinion after producing covid vaccines in record time. They worry that the industry's impressive lobbying clout could endanger the rest of the program.

But there is likely another big reason Democrats are loath to address drug prices, despite broad bipartisan support. After nearly a year of uncharacteristically being on the same page when it comes to health care, Democratic lawmakers are reverting to a more familiar position: They are at loggerheads about what to do next.

Most Democrats agree the time is ripe to tackle high drug prices. In 2019 the Democratic-led House passed a broad drug price bill that was reintroduced just days ago with the backing of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Senate Democrats have also been working on drug price legislation. There is some difference…
Julie Rovner
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