- Patients for Affordable Drugs, an advocacy group focused on drug prices, said it's launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to pressure Congress to pass legislation that's aimed at lower prescription drug costs.
- The campaign, which will run through late May, calls on President Donald Trump to keep pushing on what he's described as one of his top policy priorities.
- Two national TV ads feature "Jackie," who pays $2,000 a month for her cancer pills, and "Gail," whose insulin now costs $350 a vial. Prescription drug costs have been a focus of the Trump White House, although several initiatives pushed by the administration have come undone.
The new campaign comes at a critical time, as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, fights to build support for his bipartisan bill to lower prescription costs.
Grassley is trying to win a total of 25 Republican backers in the Senate in an effort to persuade Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call a vote, while keeping the support of Democrats. So far, he has secured about 12 Senate Republican votes, The Hill reported.
Republicans have long been skeptical of anything that appears to be price controls. Grassley's bill would require drugmaker rebates to Medicare if prices go up faster than inflation. Since Medicare is the largest single purchaser of prescription drugs, the effect could well be much bigger as private purchasers look to the rates set in the government program during their negotiations with pharmaceutical companies.
"Convincing nearly half of the Republican caucus to sign onto the bill remains a tall order," Eric Assaraf of the Cowen Washington Research Group wrote in a Feb. 24 note to clients.
A House version goes even further, allowing Medicare to negotiate prices directly with pharma companies. So, even if the Senate bill passes, a potential contentious House-Senate conference to hash out a compromise bill could follow.
Trump, meanwhile, used his Feb. 4 State of the Union address to push for legislation. "Get a bill on my desk, and I will sign it into law immediately," he said, after calling out Grassley in particular.
One natural place to attach the measure is a package of extensions for various Medicare and Medicaid programs that must be passed by May 22, though that may be too tight a deadline for a major drug pricing measure to clear all the hurdles.
The patient group's campaign builds on one launched last year to press for a Trump idea that would link Medicare reimbursement to overseas prices for certain drugs. The administration has yet to release a final proposal for the International Pricing Index, amid blowback from conservatives.
Drugmakers have moderated list price increases on their products, with most favoring hikes of about 5%, according to numbers from the investment bank Raymond James. Net prices, which are calculated after rebates and discounts offered by pharmaceutical companies to insurers, have come in even lower — by some measures — to levels near inflation.