Health Care

Welch seeks drug negotiating power for Medicare

Vermont’s congressman is encouraging President-elect Donald Trump to follow through on a position Trump announced a year ago advocating for the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has introduced a bill that would allow the federal Medicare program, which covers senior citizens and people with disabilities, to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Peter Welch
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., talks during a press conference in Brattleboro last fall. Photo by Kristopher Radder/Brattleboro Reformer
“The cost of prescription drugs is hammering consumers, employers providing health insurance to their workers, and taxpayers,” Welch said in an interview. “And the Medicare program is the biggest buyer of prescription drugs and it’s prohibited from negotiating bulk price discounts.”

Federal law prohibits Medicare from negotiating prices because of a law Congress passed in 2003 when it first extended Medicare benefits to prescription drugs. Welch describes the law as a midnight deal of quid pro quo that Congress entered into in order to pass the prescription drug coverage law.

But because Medicare can’t negotiate, it’s paying 58 percent more than the Veterans Administration for some drugs, according to a 2007 study from Families U.S.A. Welch said allowing Medicare to negotiate could save the federal government $156 billion over 10 years.

Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20, told supporters a year ago that he supported prescription drug negotiation, according to Politico. He told the crowd he could save the Medicare program $300 billion a year.

Welch sent a handwritten note to Trump on Thursday and posted it on Twitter. The note read, “Very glad to see your support on the campaign trail for negotiating good deals on prescription drug purchases by Medicare. Lots of money to save. Take a look at my price negotiation bill.”

He said in an interview Trump should support the bill because he prides himself on being able to negotiate good business deals.

No Republicans have joined Welch on the bill so far.

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Erin Mansfield

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  • robert bristow-johnson

    First, we should be having (using Bernie’s semantic) “Medicare for all”. We should integrate or aggregate Medicare, Medicaid, military off-base, VA, and public-employee health insurance into a single system and offer a “Public Option” equivalent to this to everyone else. And, until we get true Single Payer, every kid should be covered as well. But that’s a different argument to have.

    In any case, *any* drug developed with public support through the NIH should be ineligible to any free-market pricing. It’s not free market. It’s privatized profit and socialized risk. How fair is that? If NIH paid for development, the American taxpayer paid for development and these Americans, through their elected officials have the right to set prices of drugs they supported in development.

    And in any case, the aggregate medical coverage mentioned above should negotiate prices with the Pharma industry and legislation should restrict how disparate pricing is allowed to get.