191 House Republicans vote against slashing costs for prescription drugs

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A bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs passed the House with mostly Democratic support.

The House of Representatives took the issue of high prescription drug costs head on Thursday, passing a bill that promises to lower the costs of medication associated with cancer, asthma, and many other conditions.

By a 230-192 vote, H.R.3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, passed on a largely party line vote. Every Democrat supported the legislation, joined by only 2 Republicans, with the lone House independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voting no. The bill was named after the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who passed away earlier this year.

According to NPR, the legislation would allow the federal government to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare, limit out-of-pocket costs for Medicare participants, and prevent drug price hikes. The Trump administration vowed to veto the legislation if it ever comes to his desk.

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"In my district alone, H.R. 3 could lower breast cancer medication by $45,100, and diabetics could save up to 94% on the cost of insulin," Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) said in an email. "I have heard heartbreaking stories from people in my community who are forced to skip doses or ration their insulin," she added, noting too many Americans "worry about paying for their lifesaving prescription drugs."

Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), a doctor a member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, joined McBath in supporting the legislation.

"As a doctor, I've cared for patients who have struggled to pay for the high costs of prescription drugs," Bera said in a statement following the vote. "No one should have to forgo medication because they can't afford it."

In Bera's home state of California, almost 28,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, according to information provided by the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill, which Bera supported, could help lower the average total cost of Ibrance, a breast cancer medication, by 65% — from $69,000 to $23,900 per year.

"It is unacceptable that families are burdened with the astronomical costs of life-saving treatments when faced with cancer diagnoses — or diabetes, asthma, HIV, or multiple sclerosis diagnoses," Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ), co-chair of the New Democratic Coalition's Health Care Task Force, said after the vote.

More than half a million residents in Stanton's home state of Arizona live with asthma. The House-passed legislation could lower the cost of asthma medication from $1,400 per year to just $270, according to data provided by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act would lower the costs of other medication as well, according to the House Ways and Means Committee. Instead of paying $15,000 per year, people living with HIV/AIDS could pay as little as $6,000 for medication. The one million Americans living with multiple sclerosis could see drug costs drop from $40,000 to $13,000 per year.

"For far too long, the American people have been having to choose between paying rent or skipping out on an essential dose," a senior Democratic aide said in an email. "House Democrats are taking bold action and keeping their campaign promise to Lower Drug Costs. Republicans have a choice: alleviate Americans' economic and health ordeal — or continue siding with big drug corporations who are ripping us off. It shouldn't be hard."

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is one of the Republicans who voted against the measure. More than 1 in 5 residents of his home state of Florida suffer from arthritis, according to the House Ways and Means Committee. Gaetz voted against reducing the total costs on most arthritis medication from roughly $40,000 a year to $10,000 per year.

Donald Trump often accuses the House Democrats of focusing on impeachment rather than legislation to help the American people. Despite Trump's criticism, the vote to lower prescription drug prices came the same week House leaders unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump, and the same day the House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve those articles.

"As a doctor and patient with Type 1 Diabetes, I know firsthand how the prices of prescription medication have increased in the last two decades," Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA) said after the vote. "The price of my insulin is now seven times what it was in 2000, $300 a bottle! This bill should be signed into law as soon as possible. American families can’t wait any longer."

Schrier is one of 530,000 Washington residents living with diabetes. If the legislation becomes law, some commonly used insulins could cost as little as $400 per year, according to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell determines which legislation is allowed to come up for a vote. The House has passed roughly 400 bills in 2019, many of which have been blocked by McConnell and his Republican allies.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.