GOP congressmen voted against lowering drug prices despite campaign promises


All endorsed the idea behind the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act but rejected the bill when it came time to vote.

Three Republican congressmen who ran on a platform of allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices rejected a House bill on Thursday that would do just.

Republican Reps. Dan Crenshaw (TX), Anthony Gonzalez (OH), and Pete Stauber (MN) specifically made allowing Medicare to negotiate drug costs with pharmaceutical companies part of their 2018 campaign platforms.

On Thursday, the first-term lawmakers were among the 191 House Republicans who voted against H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

The bill would save the federal government an estimated $5 billion over a decade and lower prescription drug costs by thousands of dollars for many Americans. If enacted, the Department of Health and Human Services would be empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Medicare program to lower prices on some of the most expensive medications with the pharmaceutical companies that provide them.

As a candidate, Crenshaw backed this idea. In a now-removed section on his campaign "issues" page, he wrote, "It is time for Congress to take on out-of-control drug prices, and beat back the pharmaceutical lobby."

One way to do that, he wrote, was "to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and establish simple, preliminary and common formularies, much like the VA does with access to other medicine if needed. This encourages free market forces to drive down costs."

Crenshaw appears to have had a change of heart since then. A spokesperson told StatNews in May that the congressman was now "less convinced that the heavy hand of Medicare drug negotiation is the best approach" for lowest drug prices.

Last month, Crenshaw also posted a video arguing that reducing the industry's massive profits would "drive out innovation and result in fewer cures" for terrible diseases.

Gonzalez also campaigned on the idea of Medicare negotiation, writing on his campaign website previously, "The American people have been subsidizing prescription drug costs for the rest of the world for decades. When the same drug can be purchased abroad for 1/3 of the cost, we know we need to change the rules of the game. No American should be forced to pay more for prescription drugs than the citizens of any other country."

Gonzalez at the time proposed "allowing Medicare to negotiate prices directly" and "requiring more transparency on reimbursement rates."

That section was still visible on Gonzalez's site as of Thursday afternoon, even as he cast his "no" vote on H.R. 3.

Stauber responded to a candidate questionnaire in 2018, laying out several proposals to reduce the national debt. One of those ideas was "allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies."

Stauber, too, seems to have changed his mind on the issue in recent months. In October, Stauber complained that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had chosen to advance H.R. 3, rather than a weaker bill that Republicans had embraced.

The congressmen's offices did not immediately respond to inquiries about the change in stance.

Elisa Cardnell, a Democratic candidate running to challenge Crenshaw in 2020 said in a press release this week that Crenshaw had broken the promise he made, not just on his website but in debates as well.

"Dan Crenshaw campaigned on allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug costs but as soon as he got into office he flipped," Cardnell wrote. "We need a representative who won’t take a dime of Big Pharma money and will fight to lower prescription drug costs."

A fourth House Republican who had backed the concept of Medicare price negotiation, retiring Rep. Francis Rooney (FL), missed the vote on Thursday. Just two Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington — joined 228 Democrats to pass the bill.

The bill now faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to block all progressive legislation and is currently holding up more than 400 previously passed bills.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.