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Senate rules referee weakens Dem drug plan in economic bill

Senate rules referee weakens Dem drug plan in economic bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate parliamentarian on Saturday dealt a blow to Democrats’ plan for curbing drug prices but left the rest of their sprawling economic bill largely intact as party leaders prepared for first votes on a package containing many of President Joe Biden’s top domestic goals.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s nonpartisan rules arbiter, said lawmakers must remove language imposing hefty penalties on drugmakers that boost their prices beyond inflation in the private insurance market. Those were the bill’s chief pricing protections for the roughly 180 million people whose health coverage comes from private insurance, either through work or bought on their own.

Other major provisions were left intact, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate what it pays for pharmaceuticals for its 64 million elderly recipients, a longtime goal for Democrats. Penalties on manufacturers for exceeding inflation would apply to drugs sold to Medicare, and there is a $2,000 annual out-of-pocket cap on drug costs and free vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries.

Her rulings came as Democrats planned to begin Senate votes Saturday on their wide-ranging package addressing climate change, energy, health care costs, taxes and even deficit reduction. Party leaders have said they believe they have the unity they will need to move the legislation through the 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote and over solid Republican opposition.

“This is a major win for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the bill, which both parties are using in their election-year campaigns to assign blame for the worst period of inflation in four decades. “And a sad commentary on the Republican Party, as they actively fight provisions that lower costs for the American family.”

In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats “are misreading the American people’s outrage as a mandate for yet another reckless taxing and spending spree.” He said Democrats “have already robbed American families once through inflation and now their solution is to rob American families yet a second time.”

Dropping penalties on drugmakers reduces incentives on pharmaceutical companies to restrain what they charge, increasing costs for patients.

Erasing that language will cut the $288 billion in 10-year savings that the Democrats’ overall drug curbs were estimated to generate — a reduction of…

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