Exclusive — Sen. Chuck Grassley on Prescription Drug Pricing Plan: A Bipartisan Bill that Can Become Law

Grassley (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press

U.S. Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told Breitbart News exclusively that his plan to reform prescription drug pricing would specifically focus on reining in federal taxpayer spending on drugs covered by Medicare and Medicaid plans.

“The bill would basically reform a lot of federal spending on health care, particularly through Medicare, Medicaid,” Grassley said in an appearance on Breitbart News Saturday this weekend on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel about his bipartisan Senate prescription drug plan with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

“We would reduce subsidies from Medicare to the pharmaceuticals. We would put a year-over-year cap on price increases at the rate of inflation. We would put a big cap on the amount of money that one consumer would have to spend out-of-pocket. It would save the taxpayers about 80 billion dollars. It would take some of the secrecy out of the pricing of drugs. It would take some of the secrecy out of the middle man that we call a pharmaceutical benefits managers (PBMs), because all that secrecy keeps the marketplace from working, and more transparency would enhance competition. And with the more transparency you get more accountability, and we don’t have that accountability today. It would do away with the donut hole that I won’t explain, but it’s been a controversial part of Part D since it was established in 2003. But the main thing is it would cause the marketplace to work. It would stop subsidies to Big Pharma. Well, not stop subsidies, but it would limit the subsidies, because presently there’s no limit on how much they can increase drug prices – this year five to ten percent – and it ought to be limited to the inflation rate. So that’s a broad summary. It does a lot more than what I just told you.”

Grassley’s bipartisan bill rivals a partisan House bill from Speaker Nancy Pelosi that only has Democrat support in the House. When asked to describe the difference between the plans, Grassley cited the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which laid out how his bill would not adversely affect innovation of new treatments and cures of diseases and also would have a positive impact on prescription drug prices for patients not using Medicare or Medicaid—in other words, not using taxpayer funds—to cover the costs of their prescriptions. Pelosi’s bill does not get the same ratings, and Grassley said hers would “interfere” with “the practice of medicine.”

“You would say that hers gets all sorts of drugs, but you mention the idea with Medicare and Medicaid – but don’t forget, so much that the government sets a policy that carries over to the private sector,” Grassley said. “So the Congressional Budget Office says that my bill would also cut down on a non-Medicare people, consumers purchasing drugs. It would also not hurt innovation — I’m quoting Congressional Budget Office — it wouldn’t hurt innovation like hers hurts innovation. But she would take the heavy-handed approach of, instead of the marketplace working, having the government-set prices, which would basically reduce the amount of pills that are in a formulary, so that the government would be getting between you and your doctor and what the doctor might want to prescribe. We don’t want to interfere with the practice of medicine. I think her bill would. It would for sure reduce the formulary, because it follows the pattern of the VA Administration, Veterans Administration, where they dictate prices and the formularies [to] about two-thirds of what you get under Medicare, where there’s market and consumer choice, and doctor prescriptions are making the decision what you ought to take as a pill.”

Asked again about the innovation claim—critics of Grassley’s efforts sometimes say that such moves may harm efforts by pharmaceutical companies to develop more effective treatments or even cures to significant diseases. Grassley pointed again to CBO, which said his plan would not hurt innovation in any way.

“This may be too short of answer, but since I’m in politics, I always like to quote professional people, and so the Congressional Budget Office—even though it’s an arm of Congress they’re professional people—and they said our bill does not hurt innovation in any way and they say just the opposite about the Pelosi bill, and then you also got to remember from a political standpoint the Grassley-Wyden bill. Wyden is the Democrat helping me and he’s from Oregon and he’s the ranking member on the committee,” Grassley said. “We have the only bipartisan bill that is going to get 60 votes in the United States Senate, so you could lie to progressives like the Pelosi bill, but it would never get through the United States Senate. We’ve got a bipartisan bill that can become law and do what the president—actually the president was six months ahead of Congress by June of 2018 giving a major speech in this area and doing through regulation what he wanted to accomplish to get drug prices down. Our bill works in conjunction with what the president’s trying to do and we’ve only got the only bill that can get 60 votes in the Senate.”

On the political side of this, several GOP senators up for re-election in battleground states—from Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who just drew a challenger in Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, to Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Martha McSally (R-AZ)—are all co-sponsors of Grassley’s bill with Wyden. Grassley noted that this effort could help the GOP get stronger with the voting public on healthcare, an issue Democrats have led on in polling for some time. He also noted that President Donald Trump has been supportive of his efforts on this front and he believes that passing it would help President Trump get re-elected.

“I want to help President Trump get re-elected. President Trump is right on the prescription drug thing,” Grassley said. “I give him credit for bringing this up six or seven months before I ever got to be chairman of this committee and I’m bringing it up. It happens that Republicans don’t have a healthcare message, and that came out strongly in a lot of resentment expressed to the leadership of our caucus in our retreat a week ago Wednesday. Democrats have a very strong message and you may have read where the president was irritated in the Oval Office to Secretary Azar because the president had such poor poll numbers on health and the reason the president has such poor poll numbers on it is because the Republicans in the United States Senate aren’t working to back him. We do have a good record on the economy, creating jobs, the booming economy, but wage growth doesn’t mean as much if it’s going to be spent all your increase in wages is going to be spent on expensive prescription drug refills every month. You bring up control of the United States Senate. Senator Daines in Montana is going to have a tougher race now that the governor announced against him. Senator McSally and Senator Ernst and Senator Collins—we need to get them all re-elected. Leader McConnell can help by bringing this to a vote and then I guess I said this too many times that this is the only bipartisan bill they can get votes in the United States Senate and we got to get around it if we are going to get ahead of the Democrats on health care because they’ve been outbidding us with the voters on healthcare for a long period of time. It’s because the president’s out front. He needs to talk about it more, but he needs to get the Senate to move on our bill.”

Grassley is working on getting more GOP senators to support his effort. More than a dozen already do, but he’s looking for even more support to be able to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put his bill on the floor and force Pelosi’s hand by passing it out of the Senate. Asked to make his case to his Republican colleagues, Grassley said policy-wise they are already with him on this—and it is a purely political question at this stage as to whether they will get on board with it.

“Well, I shouldn’t have to worry about policy because what we’re doing is the best policy for conservatives,” Grassley said. “We’re trying to save the taxpayers money, we’re trying to reduce subsidies to the corporate welfare that we condemn so often and all that. So, I shouldn’t have to argue policy. So, it’s all about politics. We don’t have a message. We need a message ,and prescription drug pricing is one of the three or four top issues in elections, and some surveys say it’s the number one issue. In my state of Iowa, I hear about it all the time and Ernst does. If we can get this to a vote we aren’t going to have trouble getting a majority of Republicans on board and so far I think that a lot of people would like to support our bill, but they don’t know if it’s going to come up, and why put your name on the dotted line if you might not have to deal with it? That’s why the president working with McConnell can get this bill up, and once we get a bill up we’ll get it passed.”

Asked what the public can do to help him if they support his bill, Grassley asked the audience of Breitbart News to call their senators and back his bill—which has the president’s support—by cosponsoring it.

“Help the president of the United States who deserves more credit than I do for bringing this issue up because in the summer of 2018 he made a very major speech about the necessity of getting drug prices down,” Grassley said. “He was filing on things that he said during his campaign—he got elected on it, and he wants to be successful on it. He wants to run for re-election on it. It won’t happen unless your listeners, the Breitbart listeners, get on their United States Senator to do two things; One, get on the bill as a co-sponsor. And then urge the Republican senators to urge McConnell to bring it up and then praise the president for his leadership and say since this is one of the three or four major issues before the voters right now and the Democrats have outperformed us on healthcare messaging we’ve got to increase our messaging. There’s a hundred ways you can talk about healthcare but the thing that really hits the pocketbooks of the consumers is the price of prescription drugs—it’s one of the three or four top things and this is a necessity for movement if we want to re-elect the president of the United States and we want to keep a majority in the United States Senate.”

LISTEN TO SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA) ON BREITBART NEWS SATURDAY:

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