Joni Ernst Talks Potential Drug Pricing Legislative Package: ‘This Is Something That Shouldn’t Be A Political Football’

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter
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The Senate Judiciary Committee passed two bills targeting the high cost of drugs on June 27, and a committee member, Sen. Joni Ernst, spoke Wednesday with the Daily Caller News Foundation about what comes next.

“We really would like to see them done this year,” Ernst, an Iowa Republican who sponsored both bills, told the DCNF in an in-person interview. “This is something that shouldn’t be a political football. We need action soon, and people need relief, so people need to move on these bills.”

Ernst sees the two bills being incorporated into a package with the CREATES Act, a bipartisan bill that would prevent drugmakers from slowing down the development of generic alternatives. Ernst is also signed onto the CREATES Act, which was introduced during the last Congress and passed the Judiciary Committee on June 14. (RELATED: Federal Judge Puts Last-Minute Block On Trump’s Rule Forcing Drug Companies To Include Prices In TV Ads)

The other bills in the package would include the Prescription Pricing for the People Act and Preserving Access to Cost Effective Drugs (PACED) Act, the two bills that passed the Judiciary Committee on June 27. The former is a bipartisan bill with a companion in the House that boasts the support of both Democratic New York Rep. Jerry Nadler and Republican North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows.

Prescription bottles are in a jumble. Shutterstock image via David Smart

Prescription bottles are in a jumble. Shutterstock image via David Smart

The Prescription Pricing for the People Act empowers the Federal Trade Commission to examine pharmacy benefit managers, which act as middlemen in the drug supply chain.

Anytime I’m going through the state of Iowa, when I stop at an independent pharmacy, this is the big issue that our pharmacists have, is that these PBMs will come back, maybe a month or two later, and they’ll have these clawback fees. … We just want to take a look at that and see if there’s something going on behind the scenes that would lead to an anti-competitive nature,” Ernst said.

Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is the lead sponsor of the PACED Act, which lets the Patent and Trademark Office and the International Trade Commission take action on patents regardless of any claim of tribal sovereign immunity. The bill may seem random, but draws inspiration from pharmaceutical company Allergan’s attempt to shield some of its patents by transferring them to a Native American tribe.

“What we’re doing with that bill is closing that loophole so a pharmaceutical company wouldn’t be able to transfer a patent to a sovereign tribe in order to keep it from being developed into a generic,” Ernst said.

PACED has three lawmakers, all Republicans, behind it in the Senate (although former Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill was a cosponsor in 2018). Some critics say it discriminates against Native American tribes, but organizations such as the Association for Accessible Medicines are behind it.

Ernst’s focus on rolling the bills into a bipartisan package comes as she seeks reelection in a state that Cook Political Report ranks as likely Republican. She connected the two bills that passed the Judiciary Committee on June 27 with recent health care executive orders from President Donald Trump, saying both emphasize greater transparency.

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