Senate parliamentarian OKs most of Dems’ drug price controls

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate parliamentarian narrowed Democrats’ plan for curbing drug prices but left it largely unscathed Saturday, Democrats said, as party leaders prepared to start moving their sprawling economic bill through the chamber.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s rules arbiter, said provisions must be removed that would force drugmakers to pay rebates if their prices rise above inflation for products they sell to private insurers.

But pharmaceutical companies would have to pay those penalties if their prices for drugs bought by Medicare rise too high.

Other restrictions on rising pharmaceutical costs survived, including letting Medicare negotiate costs for the drugs it buys, capping seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses and providing free vaccines.

“This is a major victory for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “While there was one unfortunate ruling in that the inflation rebate is more limited in scope, the overall program remains intact and we are one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions of Americans.”

Dropping penalties on drug makers for boosting prices on private insurers will reduce incentives on pharmaceutical companies to restrain what they charge. That will increase costs for patients’ and reduce the $288 billion in the 10-year savings that the Democrats’ overall drug curbs were estimated to generate — perhaps by tens of billions of dollars, analysts have said.

Even so, the parliamentarian’s ruling left Democrats able to promote the drug provisions as a boon to consumers at a time when voters are infuriated by the worst inflation in four decades.

The details of the parliamentarian’s ruling were described by two Democrats who would only discuss it on condition of anonymity.

Alan Fram, The Associated Press