- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley previewed Wednesday his health policy priorities for the new Congress, pledging to scrutinize mergers such as the CVS-Aetna deal, pursue bipartisan legislation to bring down drug costs and work to allow cheaper drug imports from Canada.
- But the Republican from Iowa warned that allowing Medicare Part D to directly negotiate with drug companies is a proposal he has no interest in pursuing, saying that intervening in the private sector is a step too far.
- Grassley also was a co-sponsor of a bill to kill the 2.3% excise tax on medical devices, part of the Affordable Care Act the industry has lobbied against for years.
Grassley, who has been critical of the pharmaceutical industry, pointed to three bills he would like to move forward: the Creating Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act, which aims to prevent brand drugmakers from blocking generic manufacturer competition; pay-for-delay legislation targeting anti-competitive patent settlements payments from brands to generic makers to not compete; and the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act of 2019, which would allow importation of prescription drugs from Canada.
The drug importation bill, which Grassley introduced Wednesday with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar for the new Congress, would permit importation of branded drugs from approved pharmacies in Canada.
"Our legislation would allow for the safe importation of less expensive drugs from Canada, increasing competition, bringing down drug costs, and saving American families money," Klobuchar said in a statement.
President Donald Trump has backed the import idea, and taking on drugmakers for high prices is seen as a rare potential area for bipartisan cooperation in the new Congress. Last July HHS directed FDA to establish a working group on drug importation, but the effort has seen little movement since.
Grassley also told reporters that he discussed healthcare antitrust concerns with Department of Justice Attorney General nominee William Barr Wednesday morning, but said he was unsure if he would lead specific investigations into individual mergers.
"This is a major issue of mine," Grassley said. "I want to make sure that the antitrust laws are enforced, I intend to pursue with the Justice Department to make sure they are doing thorough reviews. When you have less competition, you have higher prices."
He also pegged waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid as a priority, and said he would wait until comments are submitted on HHS' International Pricing Index model before having a conversation with HHS Secretary Alex Azar about the proposal.
"I don't want foreign countries setting our drug prices," Grassley said.