Azar calling GOP senators to back Grassley drug price plan

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar is calling Republican senators to encourage them to vote for a bill to lower drug prices being considered on Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee, according to sources familiar with the matter. 

The calls from Azar are a sign of the Trump administration’s support for the bipartisan deal between Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Trump sues to block release of NY state tax returns | Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal | White House defends deal amid backlash from allies | Deal’s winners, losers Overnight Health Care: Grassley gambles on drug price bill despite GOP doubts | Newly opened migrant children shelter could close this week | FDA warns company over CBD claims Bipartisan senators introduce bill to challenge new EPA policy and Supreme Court ruling on FOIA MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Defense: Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief | Confirmed in 90-8 vote | Takes helm as Trump juggles foreign policy challenges | Senators meet with woman accusing defense nominee of sexual assault Hillicon Valley: DOJ opens tech antitrust probe | Facebook, Amazon set lobbying records | Barr attacks encryption as security risk | NSA to create new cybersecurity arm Overnight Health Care: Grassley gambles on drug price bill despite GOP doubts | Newly opened migrant children shelter could close this week | FDA warns company over CBD claims MORE (D-Ore.), amid blowback from some in the GOP.  

Many GOP senators have concerns with the proposal, worrying that it is too close to price controls on drugs, which Republicans have traditionally opposed. 

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The support from the administration could help ease concerns, although President TrumpDonald John Trump Ocasio-Cortez about as well known as top Democrats: poll Protestor yelling about Trump Tower meeting thrown out of Mueller hearing Chris Wallace: ‘This has been a disaster for the Democrats’ and ‘for the reputation of Robert Mueller’ MORE himself has not tweeted or commented publicly on the measure. 

The White House released a supportive statement on Tuesday after the committee unveiled the deal. Trump has made lowering drug prices a priority, though several of his efforts have been withdrawn, increasing pressure on Congress to act. 

Asked about the calls, HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said: “We are encouraged by the work of the Senate Finance Committee, which reflects many ideas set forth in President Trump’s budget to lower prescription drug costs and reduce out of pocket costs for Americans.”

“Now is the time for seniors to have real protection for their pocketbooks, for drug companies to be held accountable, and for the American patient to finally come first,” she added. 

The most contentious part of the measure for GOP senators is a limit on drug price increases in Medicare’s prescription drug program, called Part D. It would force drug companies to pay money back to Medicare if their prices rose faster than inflation, and is a top priority for Wyden. 

“I haven’t made a final decision,” Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoPot banking bill supporters seek path to passage in skeptical Senate Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders mounts staunch defense of ‘Medicare for All’ | Biden, Sanders fight over health care heats up | House votes to repeal ObamaCare ‘Cadillac Tax’ | Dems want details on fetal tissue research ban Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to ‘take a look’ at Google’s ties to China | Google denies working with China’s military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (R-Idaho) said Wednesday. “As you might guess, I’m not happy with the inflation cap.”

Asked if the White House’s support factors into his decision, Crapo said, “It certainly is a factor, but it’s not the entire factor.”

The measure is expected to clear committee with a handful of GOP defections. But its chances of coming to the full Senate for a vote are slimmer, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate will not vote on bipartisan health costs bill before leaving for August GOP pushback puts Trump judicial nominee at risk Harris sends fundraising email for South Carolina Democratic Party MORE (R-Ky.) could be reluctant to vote on a bill that splits Republican senators. 

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