Dec 7, 2019

The drug-pricing deal that got away

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo. Photos: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images and Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Neither Congress nor the Trump administration is likely to get much done this year on drug prices, despite the clear political upside to doing so.

Between the lines: Polls consistently show that drug prices are a top concern for voters. President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also seem to agree a lot on the policy. But a deal keeps getting further away.

Where it stands: The House is set to vote on Pelosi's bill next week, though if push ever comes to shove, she has a small and diminishing incentive to help Trump claim a big victory right before his reelection campaign.

  • The White House has thrown its weight behind a bipartisan bill in the Senate, but leadership has never been particularly warm to that effort, and rank-and-file Republicans have also backed away from parts of the plan.

The big picture: The pharmaceutical industry almost always gets its way in Washington.

  • The industry's top two trade organizations, together, spent more than $35 million on lobbying in 2018, more than they've ever spent before.
  • That doesn't include individual companies' contributions, nor does it include any of the industry's campaign contributions, which are substantial.

Trump's regulatory agenda on drug prices isn't faring much better. The administration has abandoned several of its ideas.

  • It's now working on a proposal to tie Medicare's payments to the prices European countries pay, but Trump would probably need a second term in order to see that one through.

And prices keep going up. The most expensive drug in the world — a gene replacement therapy that treats spinal muscular atrophy — came to market earlier this year, with a sticker price of $2.1 million in the U.S.

  • That drug is a groundbreaking new therapy, but prices also continue to rise for old, familiar products that people depend on every day — most notably, insulin.

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House passes Pelosi-backed drug pricing bill

Photo: Drew Angerer/GettyImages

The House on Thursday passed a drug pricing bill backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would allow the federal government to negotiate prices for specific drugs on behalf of Medicare and the private market.

Why it matters: Pelosi struck a last-minute deal with progressive Democrats who thought the bill didn't go far enough. Nonetheless, the bill has almost no chance in a Republican-controlled Senate.

Go deeper: Nancy Pelosi's drug pricing bill threatens small biotech companies

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Drug price hikes are back for 2020

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have raised the sticker prices on hundreds of drugs at the start of 2020, with most of the increases coming under 10%.

The big picture: It may be a new year, but the same drugs are once again subject to the same industry practices.

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Deep Dive: The coming health care collision

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Health insurance through an employer — the way most Americans get it — costs an annual average of almost $23,000 to cover a family. That's enough to buy a new Volkswagen every year.

The big picture: While those costs keep rising, Americans' life expectancy is falling.

Go deeperArrowDec 7, 2019 - Health