In Inside Health Policy, TRP’s McCarthy Offers Context on Drug Pricing Legislation

In an article for Inside Health Policy, TRP’s Senior Vice President Shea McCarthy shared his insight on the impact of Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-IA) support for the Grassley-Wyden drug pricing legislation. While Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has been touting the increased support for his signature drug pricing bill among Republican Senators, McCarthy pointed out that Sen. Ernst’s contemporaneous endorsement of a competing drug pricing bill may serve to highlight the GOP’s intraparty schisms on drug pricing policies. “[Ernst’s] dual endorsement of the Finance package and the alternative from Sen. Crapo effectively reinforces Leader McConnell’s perspective that there are major divisions in the Senate GOP conference over how to address drug pricing,” said McCarthy.

The article in its entirety can be read below.

Ernst Is 12th Republican To Support Grassley-Wyden Drug Pricing Bill

By Ariel Cohen / February 18, 2020 at 4:57 PM

Sen. Joni Ernst (IA) is the latest Republican to support bipartisan drug pricing legislation by fellow Iowan and Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R), bringing the number of Senate Republicans who support the bill to 12. However, some of the dozen Republicans who support the bill previously said they would not vote for it on the floor unless it were revised, and those Republicans voted during markup to strip a measure that is a must-have for Democrats.

Grassley said he needs support from at least 25 GOP senator to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will bring S. 2543 to the floor. Despite the expressions of support, the bill has no co-sponsors, according to congress.gov.

When Finance passed S. 2543, six Republicans, including Grassley, voted for it along with all but one Democrat — Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ). However, Republican members told Grassley they would not vote for the bill on the floor without changes. With the exception of Sens. Grassley and Bill Cassidy (LA), all committee Republicans voted to strip a measure to make drug companies pay back the government when they raise prices faster than inflation. Democrats said they would oppose S. 2543 without that inflationary rebates measure.

Ernst also endorsed a competing drug pricing bill from a group of Senate Finance Republicans led by Mike Crapo (R-ID).

“[Ernst’s] dual endorsement of the Finance package and the alternative from Sen. Crapo effectively reinforces Leader McConnell’s perspective that there are major divisions in the Senate GOP conference over how to address drug pricing,” Thorn Run Partners Senior Vice President Shea McCarthy said.

Last week, McConnell said internal GOP divisions over the drug pricing bill could thwart Grassley’s bill (S. 2543). Grassley saidthat he is updating the bill to get more GOP support, but that he will not axe the legislation’s inflationary rebates that are a sticking point for many Republicans and a must-have for Democrats.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said last week during a budget hearing on Capitol Hill that the administration’s budget request supportsthe Grassley-Wyden bill, but a senior administration official insisted the budget avoids endorsing any one bill to make it easier for Congress to work out a deal.

Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) last week voiced her support for the Grassley-Wyden bill. Both McSally and Ernst are facing tough reelections in 2020 and drug pricing is consistently a top issue for voters.

“At nearly every town hall or other stop I make on my 99 County Tour, and even in discussions around the kitchen table with my family members who depend on life-saving medications, Iowans from every corner of the state have made it clear that they want to see Congress address the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs,” Ernst said.

Republican Sens. Rob Portman (OH), John Cornyn (TX), Todd Young (IN), Steve Daines (MT) and Bill Cassidy (LA) voted for S. 2543 committee. Along with Ernst and McSally, GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME), Kevin Cramer (ND) and Mike Braun (IN) announced support for the bill after the Finance markup.

A Grassley spokesperson said they expect to announce several new GOP endorsements in the coming weeks.