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House passes bills to lower drug prices

Posted: 9:19 PM, May 16, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-17 02:19:55Z
House passes bills to lower drug prices

The House on Thursday passed a health care package that included several bipartisan bills to lower drug costs, but without the support of most Republicans because it also included legislation to strengthen Obamacare.

The vote was 234-183. Five Republicans voted to approve the package.

Republican representatives, most of whom would have likely supported the drug pricing bills if they were brought up alone, cried foul, saying Democratic leaders had attached the Obamacare legislation as a poison pill that forced a tough vote for the GOP.

"Instead of delivering a victory for the American people today -- making prescription drugs more affordable -- Democrats are back at it, playing gotcha politics," said Energy and Commerce Committee Republican leader Greg Walden of Oregon.

Democrats, meanwhile, argued they were simply delivering on their campaign promises to lower drug costs while bolstering Obamacare and protecting those with preexisting conditions.

The Senate is not expected to take up the legislation.

While the two parties have been working together on measures to address drug costs, House Democrats are also seeking to reverse many of Trump administration's moves to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

The goal of the drug price bills is to make it easier for generic medication to come to market by ending some of the roadblocks that brand name manufacturers erect. For instance, it would ban brand name drug makers from paying generic rivals to delay bringing their lower-cost products to market and would make it easier for generic drug makers to get the samples they need to make their versions.

But the legislation would also reverse President Donald Trump's extension of short-term insurance plans, which don't have to adhere to all of Obamacare's rules, so they can reject people with preexisting conditions or charge them higher premiums. The administration last year made these policies more attractive by extending their terms to just under a year, instead of three months. Also included is a measure to restore funding for outreach and assistance during Obamacare's open enrollment period that the President has slashed since taking office.

The drug reform bills passed the committee with unanimous bipartisan votes, but the Obamacare provisions were approved on strict party-line votes, according to a senior Republican House aide.

The White House also took issue with the combined bills, noting in a statement of administration policy that it contains "positive steps called for by the President to lower drug prices" but also measures that would limit Americans' health insurance choices and coverage. White House advisors would recommend the President veto the bill if it remains in its current form.

Thursday's vote comes a week after House lawmakers approved three bills that also addressed drug costs and the Affordable Care Act. The drug price legislation, which also aimed to bolster the availability of generic medicines, were passed with broad Republican support. But the Obamacare measure, which nullified a Trump administration guidance that would allow states to ask for waivers to make major changes to their Obamacare markets, was approved mostly along party lines with only four Republican members joining Democrats.

Republicans blasted their rivals across the aisle for naming the latter bill Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act of 2019, saying that states would not be allowed to waive the health reform law's comprehensive protections for those with spotty medical histories.

Last week's bills are not expected to be picked up in the Senate.