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Quad-City Times: Grassley, Ernst explain opposition to Democratic prescription drug plan

DES MOINES — Iowa’s U.S. senators signaled opposition to a proposed plan from Senate Democrats aimed at lowering drug prices for Medicare recipients unveiled this week.

Sen. Joni Ernst and a spokesperson for Sen. Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, decried the plan as partisan in statements to the Lee Enterprises Des Moines Bureau.

“Unfortunately, the Democrats’ partisan proposal would result in less innovation that ultimately means fewer therapies and treatments for patients,” Grassley’s spokesperson Taylor Foy said in an email. “On top of that, it would be attached to another partisan spending bill that is designed to cut Republicans out of lawmaking process, and will almost certainly fuel record inflation.”

Senate Democrats released the proposed legislation on Wednesday, part of an effort to revive President Joe Biden’s domestic and economic agenda. The plan would give Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, cap annual premium increases, and cap Medicare beneficiary spending at $2,000 a year. It would also require drug manufacturers to pay rebates if drug prices rise faster than the rate of inflation.

“For years, Senator Grassley and I have worked hard and across the aisle — with Democrats and Republicans — on specific ways to lower prescription drug costs, including getting the CREATES Act signed into law to increase competition,” Ernst said in a statement provided by spokesperson Brendan Conley. “The idea that Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and the Democrats are refusing to bring one of these comprehensive bipartisan plans up for a vote, but instead want to ram through a partisan, reckless tax-and-spend spree that’ll raise taxes reeks of politics.”

Advocacy groups for patients and seniors celebrated the deal this week, calling it a historic moment toward bringing down pharmaceutical costs.

“This is a once in a generation chance for Democrats to finally deliver on their promises to lower drug prices,” Margarida Jorge, head of the national advocacy group Lower Drug Prices Now, said in a press release. “At a time when the price of everything is going up, this bill, if enacted, would finally rein in big Pharma’s price-gouging and make medicines more affordable for millions of Americans.”

Grassley has long been a proponent of lowering drug prices. Legislation Grassley introduced in 2019, which hasn’t been voted on, aims to close the coverage gap in Medicare Part D and reduce the cost-sharing rate for beneficiaries. It would also cap out-of-pocket expenses and prevent drug prices in Medicare from increasing faster than the rate of inflation.

Grassley’s legislation, titled the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act, would not allow Medicare to negotiate the price of drugs, which is a central component of the Democrats’ plan. Grassley has argued that allowing negotiations on drug prices would limit options for Medicare beneficiaries.

Grassley’s drug price bill is “the only comprehensive prescription drug bill that can pass the U.S. Senate with more than 60 votes,” Foy said.

The Democratic plan announced this week is a key piece of a larger package Democrats are negotiating that would include climate and tax provisions, the details of which are not final. The final package is expected to go through a process known as reconciliation, which allows certain bills to be passed with 50 votes in the Senate, rather than the usual 60 needed to pass legislation.

If Democrats reach a consensus, the full package is expected to pass along party lines with no Republicans supporting.

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