Skip to main content

House Passes Pelosi Drug-Pricing Bill

Analysis  |  By Jack O'Brien  
   December 12, 2019

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act is unlikely to advance past the Senate.

The House of Representatives passed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act Thursday afternoon.

The bill, first introduced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in September, was approved by a 230 to 192 vote.

Pelosi's drug-pricing plan, would allow the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers and establish a ceiling price of no more than 120% of the volume-weight average price of the Average International Market price.

Related: Pharma Cash Rolls Into Congress To Defend An Embattled Industry

The bill also includes language that would cap out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs available under Medicare Part D, decrease the government reinsurance for catastrophic spending down to 20%, and increase health plan responsibility to 50%.

Since its unveiling, the bill received a polarized response on Capitol Hill and among the pharmaceutical industry.

Following passage, PhRMA CEO Stephen J. Ubl criticized the bill as prioritizing politics "at the expense of innovation, American jobs and hope for patients."

"Rather than upending the current system, we should work on policy solutions that have bipartisan support, such as capping out-of-pocket costs in Medicare, establishing lower and more predictable cost sharing for patients, reforming the rebate system and requiring insurers to share negotiated savings with patients, promoting value-based payment for medicines, among other reforms," Ubl said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) applauded the House for passing Pelosi's drug-pricing plan and called on the Senate to take up the bill.

"Americans are counting on lawmakers to get these bipartisan, market-passed solutions to crack down on Big Pharma’s egregious pricing practices and lower prescription drug prices passed into law before year-end," Lauren Aronson, executive director of CSRxP, said in a statement.

The drug-pricing plan also overcame late concerns about potential defections from progressive House members over watered down language in the bill.

Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., aided by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, was able to get Pelosi to reinsert certain provisions in the bill ahead of Thursday's vote. 

"House Democrats have taken a tremendous step forward in fulling our promise to reduce prescription drug prices for Americans across the country and lower out-of-pocket costs for seniors," Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., said in a statement.

Related: HHS OIG: Medicare Part D Drug Rebates 'Substantially' Reduced Spending Growth

The bill is unlikely to advance any further as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told an interviewer this fall that the upper chamber was "not going to be calling up a bill like that."

President Donald Trump, who has championed lowering prescription drug prices as part of his administration's healthcare policy agenda, originally applauded Pelosi's plan in a mid-September tweet.

However, in late November he tweeted his disapproval of the plan and the White House has indicated that it would veto the bill if it passed the Senate. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include commentary from PhRMA and the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing.

Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Washington DC / USA - July 26 2019: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds a press conference / Editorial credit: Aaron-Schwartz /

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.