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Sen. Chuck Grassley during a Judiciary Committee hearing last year. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A key Senate panel seemed to hone in yesterday on some bipartisan ideas to cut federal spending on prescription drugs.

The big picture: Members of the Senate Finance Committee were mostly interested in proposals that would cut payments to insurance companies and doctors, though some also raised questions about pharmaceutical companies.

Details: Republicans and Democrats were both open to restructuring Medicare Part D, including payments to insurers.

  • “There’s reporting that patterns of overbidding exist that may indicate a potential gaming of the system," Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley told Axios, alluding to a recent Wall Street Journal story that said insurers have pocketed an extra $9.1 billion because of the way they estimate their costs.

In Medicare Part B, senators discussed changing the way the government reimburses doctors for the drugs they buy — "getting away from a percentage, which creates an incentive to go with the most expensive possible prescription and instead going with something closer to a flat fee," Sen. Pat Toomey said.

  • Doctors and hospitals have fought such changes before, and are fighting a similar proposal from the Trump administration. Critics say the current arrangement gives doctors an incentive to use the most expensive drugs, because they collect a percentage of the cost.

There was also support for changing the way pharmacy benefit managers handle their rebates, which the pharmaceutical industry may support and Trump is also considering.

"I thought there was a big swath of ground for bipartisanship," Sen. Ron Wyden said.

Grassley also hinted at more dramatic price cuts for drugs in an interview, but offered few details.

  • With more transparency throughout the system, "the companies have to justify their price increases and have uniform pricing," he said. "Whether I buy a drug or you buy a drug, there ought to be one price for a drug and everybody ought to pay the same thing."
  • A source familiar with Grassley's thinking said he was not advocating for price controls.
  • Other committee Republicans also questioned the gap between drug companies' profits and their research spending, but did not endorse any proposals to limit those profits.

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Biden holds first phone call with Putin, raises Navalny arrest

Putin takes a call in 2017. Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

President Biden on Tuesday held his first call since taking office with Vladimir Putin, pressing the Russian president on the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the Russia-linked hack on U.S. government agencies, AP reports.

The state of play: Biden also planned to raise arms control, bounties allegedly placed on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said the call took place while she was delivering a press briefing. Psaki added that a full readout will be provided later Tuesday.

Biden signs racial equity executive orders

Joe Biden prays at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on September 3, 2020, in the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. PHOTO: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed executive orders on housing and ending the Justice Department's use of private prisons as part of what the White House is calling his “racial equity agenda.”

The big picture: Biden needs the support of Congress to push through police reform or new voting rights legislation. The executive orders serve as his down payment to immediately address systemic racism while he focuses on the pandemic.