November 21, 2021

Cap on drug price hikes for privately insured sparks battle

Workers and families with private health insurance would reap savings on prescription drugs from a little-noticed provision in President Joe Biden’s sweeping social agenda bill. It’s meant to break the cycle of annual price increases for widely used medicines.

That provision would require drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if they increase prices above the rate of inflation. Drugs sold to private plans would count in calculating the penalty, like a tax on price increases. The issue is dividing business groups in a fierce lobbying battle.

Corporate groups focused on affordable employee benefits want to keep the language as is so it would provide price-increase protection for companies and their workers and not just Medicare enrollees. Other groups such as the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce are backing the pharmaceutical industry’s drive to block restraints on pricing, including inflation caps, saying they would stifle innovation.

House Democrats passed the roughly $2 trillion social agenda legislation on Friday and sent it to the Senate. The bill resets national priorities on issues from climate to family life and faces more scrutiny in that evenly divided chamber. Prescription drugs are but one component, and most of the attention has focused on Medicare provisions to slash out-of-pocket costs for seniors and allow the program to negotiate prices for a limited number of medicines.

But the inflation caps would have far-reaching impact for as many as 180 million Americans with private insurance.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the bill applies to, and will help, privately insured people,” said Shawn Gremminger, health policy director at the Purchaser Business Group on Health. “But that isn’t a sure thing. As currently structured, that would be the case. But we have been worried and continue to be worried that will change.” His coalition represents nearly 40 large employers that cover more than 15 million workers, retirees and their families.

Read more from AP.