There has been quite a lot going on politically of late, and we have focused a lot on the issues that have been thrust right in front of our faces – the Rittenhouse trial, inflation, oil prices, the Virginia elections, and so much more. At times, we almost forget that there is a major piece of legislation that Congress is continuing to fight over.
The Build Back Better agenda rests entirely on this legislation, and it’s all pretty much a grab bag of socialist ideas that the Democrats have really one last shot at getting across the finish line before the 2022 midterms that seem likely to wipe out their narrow majority.
With this last, desperate shot at getting the Biden agenda across the finish line, the Democrats are likely to start ramping up their attacks against Republicans even more and make sure to attack them as cruel, poor-hating monsters who only want the rich to be successful in this country.
There is one issue that is part of the Biden agenda that Republicans are very likely to work with Democrats on, but definitely not as part of a bill with so many bad ideas packed into it. That issue is lower drug prices, and Republicans have actually been at the forefront of this fight since George W. Bush was in office.
Bush took steps to lower drugs costs when he was President, but it was Donald Trump who took the most significant action yet, working on policy based on Chuck Grassley’s efforts in the Senate. Lowering drug costs was a pillar of Trump’s 2016 campaign, and a promise he followed through on.
Grassley’s work on the issue was the primary inspiration for the Trump administration’s decision to have Medicare use the international price of prescription drugs instead of the often-inflated U.S. price – a policy known as the Most Favored Nation approach. Grassley also pushed a bill to lower prescription drug prices in 2020 with the support of Senators Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Rob Portman, Steve Daines, Joni Ernst, Mike Braun, Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Lisa Murkowski.
Which leads us to the present.
Last week, Axios reported that the drugmaker Viatris priced its new insulin Semlgee, a drug that saw huge price spikes just a couple years ago, putting it out-of-reach for many diabetics. This “new” insulin had two prices, though. There was one cost of $98.65 per vial – far cheaper than the $283.65 charged by Lantus, the main competitor in the marketplace – and another that cost $269.38.
But Grassley hasn’t let up. In an October 26 hearing, he grilled a Biden nominee, Samuel Bagenstos, who is set to be the General Counsel to the Department of Health and Human Services. Grassley’s line of questioning focused on what Bagenstos would do to hold drug companies accountable when they violate federal laws that require them to provide discounted drugs to certain health care entities, many of them in rural areas, covered by something called the 340b drug discount program that requires drug companies to offer deeply-discounted drugs to these health care providers.
“The administration has written to at least six companies about what they have to do and you haven’t heard back from the companies,” Grassley said. “The status quo is not sustainable, so if confirmed what additional steps could HHS take to protect the [340b] program?
Grassley and the Republicans working with him have been tirelessly working to keep patients from having to pay more than $200 a pop for insulin while the Biden administration seemed at one point willing to let those prices spike. Now, the Biden administration is saying it wants BBB to bring those prices down.
But you don’t need to include that in a major bill like this. The groundwork has already been laid in separate bills and policies put forward by Republicans, and those Republicans are very eager to work with Democrats in getting this done. However, they (rightfully) aren’t going to sign on to a major spending bill that will bring further inflation and create more problems.
This is a good policy for Republicans to work with Democrats on, and Democrats can score an easy win here without tying it to the IRS snooping on Americans’ bank accounts or giving nearly half a million dollars to immigrant families.