Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), as well as other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) of pushing pharma-friendly legislation written in secret.
According to Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), House Democratic leadership — which would include Pelosi, as well as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), and House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) — wrote drug-pricing legislation in secret that doesn’t challenge pharmaceutical companies’ monopoly over the manufacturing of certain prescription drugs.
On Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez told reporters that “most members” of the House Democratic Caucus, including her, don’t know the details of Pelosi’s bill, and are hesitant to support it.
“That’s a problem and it’s part of a pattern, I think, where we don’t know things until 48 hours before. And then it’s like, ‘You’re either with us or you’re against us,’ ” Ocasio-Cortez said.
According to HuffPost, House Democratic Leadership’s bill would empower the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate the prices of at least 25 prescription drugs each year. If the government fails to reach an agreement on a final price, it would institute a tax on the company equal to 50% of the prior year’s sales on that particular drug.
However, advocacy group Public Citizen criticized the legislation for being too pharma-friendly by only requiring negotiation on just 25 drugs. The bill is accused of not being transparent in the selection process for which 25 drug prices would be selected for negotiation. The legislation also doesn’t set standards for what would qualify as a meaningful price cut.
“Twenty-five drugs is not enough,” Public Citizen Access to Medicines program spokesperson Steven Knievel told HuffPost. “They need to do more. Our demand is to do all drugs.”
Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives in the House Democratic Caucus are instead supporting a bill sponsored by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who chairs the House Ways and Means’ health subcommittee. Doggett’s bill, H.R. 1046 — which already has 125 co-sponsors — would also allow the government to negotiate drug prices, but would also enable the government to authorize the use of much cheaper generic alternatives to expensive prescription drugs in the event an agreement can’t be reached.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) told The Hill that while there are multiple drug pricing bills being considered, Pelosi’s bill will likely be the one to move forward, “because she’s the speaker.” And given the considerable donations the pharmaceutical industry has made to the campaigns of House Democratic leaders throughout the course of their careers, the most pharma-friendly legislation will likely be the one given a full floor vote.
Nancy Pelosi, for example, has received more than $400,000 from Big Pharma since 1989, according to OpenSecrets. Rep. Hoyer has received over $1 million in the last 30 years. Majority Whip Clyburn has received more than $800,000 in pharma donations.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.