No Hotter Health Care Issue Than Drug Pricing, Lobbyist Says

There is no health care issue hotter than drug pricing, Jonathon Jones told members of the National Association of Health Underwriters at their virtual Capitol Conference. Jones is a partner with the government relations consultant Peck Madigan Jones.

“It’s not just a Democratic priority – it has become a priority for both parties,” Jones said in looking ahead to what the Biden administration and the new Congress mean for health care.

Of the major health care issues in Washington, lowering the cost of prescription drugs is the issue that enjoys the most bipartisan support, at least ideologically, Jones said. “Everyone agrees on the idea that we need to do something to change the U.S. laws to reduce drug prices.”

In December 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R.3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, but the bill did not come up for a Senate vote. Jones said he did not believe H.R. 3 will come up in the House again this year.

“I definitely don’t think it will become law,” he said. “I think with drug pricing, one of two things will happen. One is that in the Senate, if there is an outreach to Democrats from Republicans, there’s a growing recognition that the Senate could pass a bipartisan drug pricing bill. For the Biden administration, it could open an opportunity to do a big piece of health legislation with bipartisan support.

“The other option is that because a lot of the drug pricing policies generate revenue for the federal government, they could be paired with further expansions of the Affordable Care Act like we saw in this current COVID-19 relief package.”

What about the chances of Medicare for All or a public option becoming law anytime soon? Jones had some thoughts.

“President Biden wasn’t only unsupportive of Medicare for All but he campaigned against it and advocated building on the ACA instead. I think he has taken steps in this first COVID-19 bill to make good on that promise. The bill has a number of provisions that strengthen the current ACA system. I think he will continue to steer down that path. But the left wing of the Democratic party will continue to push for M4A and for public option.”

Jones said he believes “it’s virtually impossible that Medicare for All would pass” in Biden’s first two years in office. But a public option is a more likely possibility.

“I think it depends on what you consider to be a public option,” he said. “You could see some things that would quality as a modest public option, such as reducing the eligibility age for Medicare. There’s strong support in the Democratic party for a Medicare buy-in or public option. But I think it will be much more of a modest step and not a robust public option available to a really broad group of people.”

In health care, “you’re always straddling between the idea of adding something new and taking away something popular,” Jones said. “Republicans ran into this when they tried to repeal the ACA unsuccessfully in 2017. And I think Democrats are facing the same situation and they will go slow on this.”

Jones predicted that the nation “will continue to take more incremental steps toward government health care.”

“I’m not saying we will go to a single-payer system. But I think government will be more involved and public options will be available for more people.”

Jones cautioned that government policies eventually will take more people away from the employer-sponsored health care model.

“What I worry about is over time and as the ACA plans get bigger and we allow more people to participate, we’ll take more people out of employer market. It will reach a point where it becomes harder to defend the system. We need to have more affordable options so we can compete with this idea that the government can give people everything they want without their having to pay for it. The ability of this industry to provide choices is critical.”


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