Editorial: Rice needs to explain vote against drug plan

Editorial: Rice needs to explain vote against drug plan

Two of the Democrats who joined with Republicans to block a plan that would authorize Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies have received $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the industry.

A cynical person might assume that Reps. Scott Peter (D-Calif) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) were influenced by that money when they decided to vote against House leadership-backed drug pricing language.

But that would not explain why Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) joined Schrader and Peter in a committee vote that threatened a plan that could save the government around $500 billion over a decade and is a key piece in President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion social “infrastructure” package.

The former Nassau County district attorney has received $66,000 from Big Pharma since she first ran for Congress, which by the standards of the House is not a lot of money.

So that may not explain her opposition, but Rice has not been very clear on what does.

The measure that Rice and the two other Democrats opposed in committee would direct federal health regulators to negotiate prices of 25 high-priced drugs in the first year of implementation and 50 drugs in subsequent years.  The new negotiated prices would be available to both Medicare and private insurers.

The Congressional Budget Office has said the drug pricing legislation would save the government $456 billion and reduce prices by 57 percent to 75 percent for consumers.

The savings under the plan are intended to provide new coverage for poor Americans without insurance, extra subsidies for people who buy their own coverage and dental, hearing and vision benefits for Medicare recipients.

Rice did not comment publicly about her decision.

After her vote last Wednesday, Rice’s spokesman, Stuart Malec, referred to her statement Tuesday in which she said she did not support “advancing policies that are not fiscally responsible and jeopardize the bill’s final passage.”

Rice apparently was referring to other moderate Democrats’ concerns about Biden’s approach to lower drug prices.

Schrader and Peters have warned that “government-dictated prices” for drugs would undermine pharmaceutical innovation and development of badly needed new drugs, such as the vaccines for COVID-19, and could lead to layoffs.

This sounds like what you can expect in a seven-figure ad campaign announced by the pharmaceutical industry’s top lobbying group to attack Democratic legislation that aims to lower the costs of Americans, who now face the world’s highest prescription prices.

If Rice shares this opinion, then she should say so. She also should explain exactly what she finds “not fiscally responsible” in legislation that has 80 to 90 percent support among the American people.

Perhaps Rice is taking issue with Biden’s plan to pay for at least part of the $3.5 trillion proposal by trying to make the rich – if not the super rich – and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes. And to reduce the profits of pharmaceutical companies.

Schrader and Peters seem to be saying that the largest purchaser of pharmaceuticals in the country,  Medicare, should not have the ability to negotiate with drug companies.

Congress actually forbade Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies – among the large contributors to congressional campaigns – on drug prices when drug coverage was added to Medicare.

Not exactly free enterprise at work.

This helps explain why Americans pay the highest drug prices in the Western world and can be charged $98 for the same vial of insulin Canadians get for about $12.

Schrader and Peters – and perhaps Rice – believe this is a fair trade-off in exchange for innovation and development of new drugs.

It is true that the work of some pharmaceutical companies on COVID-19 was nearly miraculous in the speed in which the vaccine was produced. It is also true that the work of some pharmaceutical companies helped create an opioid crisis that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

But even ignoring the downside of Big Pharma, effectively imposing a tax on sick people, regardless of their ability to pay, is a dishonest, inefficient and cruel way to accomplish innovation.

Do we really want to force people to choose between potentially life-saving medicine and their rent?

And how exactly do we know that the high prices Americans are charged for drugs are going to innovation and development of needed drugs and not second, third or four homes for the executives who run the drug companies and their wealthy shareholders?

Or for that matter to pay for an army of lobbyists and to fund political action committees that keep prices and profits high.

A fairer and more honest way to finance innovation and development of new drugs would be through direct subsidies funded by taxpayers.

Some would call this that dreaded word – socialism – and they might have a point. But at least it would be done in the light of day.

Rice, Schrader and Peters have alternatively been called centrists, moderates and even conservatives.

But it is hard to understand why they would be termed moderate, centrist or conservative for helping keep prices high for some of the country’s largest corporations by preventing Medicare from negotiating with them.

Despite the vote of the three Democrats in committee, the drug plan could re-emerge in Congress as an important part of Biden’s $3.5 trillion social policy package.

“Delivering lower drug costs is a top priority of the American people and will remain a cornerstone of the Build Back Better Act as work continues between the House, Senate and White House on the final bill,” Henry Connelly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said in a statement after the Energy and Commerce Committee vote.

Connelly said the House Ways and Means Committee, which has been working through its own piece of the massive reconciliation bill, passed a measure with language similar to the legislative language that failed in Energy and Commerce.

Stressing the importance of the drug-price control measures to the Democratic leaders, Connelly also noted that “polling consistently shows immense bipartisan support for Democrats’ drug price negotiation legislation.”

He might have added that the Democrats’ hopes of keeping the House in 2022 and perhaps the presidency in 2024 hinge on their ability to keep their promises to do things like reduce the high cost of drugs.

We hope Rice will be more forthcoming in explaining her concerns with the existing legislation. We also hope she will join with her fellow Democrats in addressing the high cost of drugs in this country.

Rice showed her independence by opposing Pelosi’s election as speaker in 2018, citing a need for a generational change in the Democrats’ House leadership.

We hope that independence does not help get House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) elected speaker in 2022.




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  1. “The former Nassau County district attorney has received $66,000 from Big Pharma since she first ran for Congress, which by the standards of the House is not a lot of money.”

    Think of it as a down payment, Steve. Then it makes sense.

    “Rice showed her independence by opposing Pelosi’s election as speaker in 2018, citing a need for a generational change in the Democrats’ House leadership.”

    That was not her rationale. Nor was it Suozzi’s. Both are not Democrats or “centrists.” They’re simply owned.


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