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Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

Congress recently put the pharmaceutical industry on the hook for more of seniors' drug costs, but the industry is pushing lawmakers to reverse that policy as part of a bill to address the opioid crisis.

The big picture: Congress voted earlier this year to shift billions of dollars in Medicare drug costs away from seniors and onto drug companies. Now, "PhRMA is begging" lawmakers to reverse that decision in unrelated opioids legislation, a GOP congressional aide said.

The details: A February spending bill required drugmakers to cover more of the costs seniors incur when they fall into Medicare's "donut hole."

  • It was a rare lobbying loss for the industry. Its leading trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has been lobbying aggressively on the issue ever since.
  • After failing to get lawmakers to reverse the hit in subsequent spending bills, the industry's focus has now shifted to the opioids package being finalized by House and Senate leaders, according to lobbyists and congressional aides familiar with the process.
  • "Sounds like the size of the fix for pharma could be maybe 2-3x bigger than the opioids funding," a House Democratic aide said.

Industry is trying to broker a compromise, those sources said: Eliminate the multibillion-dollar tab drug companies would absorb for Medicare's "donut hole," and in exchange industry would accept a version of a bill designed to stop brand-name drugmakers from blocking generic competitors.

Yes, but: None of this has anything to do with the opioid crisis, which has so far been a rare example of bipartisan agreement. And there's reason to be highly skeptical Democrats would go along with the industry's latest request.

  • "If you're a Democrat, why do you want to do this?" one pharmaceutical lobbyist asked.
  • It's also unclear whether Republicans will go along. The GOP congressional aide said his party won't force the issue unless PhRMA can lock in Democratic support on its own.

Go deeper

House passes sweeping election and anti-corruption bill

Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

The House voted 220-210Wednesday to pass Democrats' expansive election and anti-corruption bill.

Why it matters: Expanding voting access has been a top priority for Democrats for years, but the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) comes as states across the country consider legislation to rollback voting access in the aftermath of former President Trump's loss.

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House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

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Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.