House Advances Health Care Bills Not Expected to Pass Senate

WASHINGTON (CN) – House members on Thursday advanced a bundle of bills designed to lower prescription drug prices and strengthen health care funding.

The U.S. House voted 234 to 183 on Thursday night, with Democrats prevailing, to pass House Resolution 987— a legislative package combining seven bills, three of which are related to lowering prescription drug costs.

The other four bills, introduced by Democrats, focus on strengthening the Affordable Care Act.

The package is not expected to advance in the Senate as Democratic sponsors were accused of inserting the “poison pill” of partisanship into an otherwise bipartisan topic with the inclusion of health care funding proposals.

With a unanimous vote, the House Judiciary Committee on April 30 advanced three key pieces of Thursday’s legislative package. These proposals are intended to reduce prescription drug prices for consumers and are majorly supported across the aisle.

Among the legislation passed in April and again on Thursday are proposals to stop brand name drug manufacturers from using patent-related legal settlements to delay the introduction of generic versions of the medicines to consumers.

That bill, which is similar in focus to the other two, was introduced by Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and ranking member Doug Collins (R-GA).

In most cases, brand name pharmaceuticals are protected from competition brought by their generic counterparts for five years after the original patent is granted.

Democrats argued on the floor Thursday that generic versions of medication can be more affordable for consumers, and create better options and competition.

Better competition among pharmaceutical manufacturers, more options and subsequently lower drug costs for consumers were desires expressed by both Democratic House members and Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, who spoke for Republicans during Thursday’s pre-vote debate.

Rep. Walden on Thursday contested, however, proposed requirements to more greatly fund Navigator programs and require that their services better educate and assist underserved communities.

Navigator programs were created under the Affordable Care Act. These programs are comprised of individuals and organizations that are required to help consumers explore their options and enroll in best-fitting health care plans, including coverage offered through Medicaid and state-based health care providers.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides funding for Navigator programs in most states, but in 2017, federal funding for it was reduced by about 43%.

Pointing fingers toward the Trump administration on Thursday, several House Democrats pitched amendments that would restore funding for these programs and reverse President Donald Trump’s efforts to quash the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

Walden told Congress he was outraged to learn that people hired by Navigator programs do not already work to provide transparency and to serve low-income areas, arguing that more money should not be poured into this initiative.

He said President Trump has done more to fix health care programs than any other president and cited a 2017 Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial that deemed the Navigator program a “make-work government jobs program rife with corruption and highly susceptible to scam artists.”

Though the package passed on Thursday, mostly containing Democrat-supported amendments, partisan tension concerning its contents did not end at Navigator program disagreements.

Presenting an amendment to put limits to “junk” health insurance plans, Virginia Democrat Rep. Jennifer Wexton condemned the president’s bolstering of short-term plans, which do not have to provide the same protections as the Affordable Care Act does.

Walden said these short-term plans serve an important role in filling gaps in coverage, but their different set of regulations can cause discrimination against people who have a pre-existing condition.

Both said they support requiring short-term health insurance providers to fully disclose what is covered under every plan, a sentiment that aligned with Thursday’s theme of health care and pharmaceutical industry transparency.

The Association for Accessible Medicines, a group that advocates for generic drugs, sent two letters to Congress Thursday and shared them with Courthouse News.

The organization rejects the proposal to block patent settlements, stating that the legislation could be harmful to manufacturers and overbroad.  

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