‘Patent thicket’ bill caught in tug-of-war over drug pricing reforms

‘Patent thicket’ bill caught in tug-of-war over drug pricing reforms

One Senate aide said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put a “hold” on the legislation. Schumer’s office declined to comment.

“I think the rationale is they want it to be part of the larger prescription drug bill,” Cornyn told POLITICO. “But given the uncertainty of impeachment and the schedule, I’d like to go ahead and get this done since it has bipartisan support and I think it would actually do some good.”

Blumenthal said he was optimistic the pair could satisfy the concerns of “whoever has a hold on it,” and suggested that the resistance was due to miscommunication. “I think we are moving toward a solution, probably next week,” he said.

One senior Democratic aide noted that bipartisan discussions on the Senate Finance and HELP bills continue .

But the holdup over a relatively non-controversial drug bill illustrates the challenges inherent in bringing up the kind of sweeping drug pricing plan that President Donald Trump and congressional leaders had promised the public early this year.

The Senate GOP has yet to rally around the bipartisan Senate Finance package from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Committee Republicans clashed over controversial provisions such as a measure to cap price increases in Medicare Parts B and D at the rate of inflation, and nine voted against the measure during a July markup.

Acrimony fueled by impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump could yet quash any deal on drug pricing, despite Trump and House Democrats’ eagerness for a win on the issue ahead of the 2020 elections. Republicans also are resisting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drug price plan, which would authorize government negotiation of prices unless the White House drops the hammer.

Cornyn is emblematic of broader anxiety some Republicans feel in the run-up to an election in which drug prices are expected to loom large with voters. Cornyn, like other Senate GOP incumbents, is facing fierce attacks on health care from Texas Democrats who hope to unseat him.

Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, said the party plans to showcase contributions Cornyn received from pharmaceutical companies. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics says Cornyn has received about $254,400 from drug and health products companies. The Democrats have even attacked him on the patent bill, seizing on criticism that Cornyn softened the section aimed at curbing “patent thickets” — stacking tens and even hundreds of patents up around a drug — under industry pressure.

Cornyn is “trying to get his piecemeal portion through,” said one Washington lobbyist. “The numbers in the polling are so clear in the seats for [these Republicans] … drug pricing moves people.”

Cornyn wrote the bill after a high-profile Senate Finance hearing with pharmaceutical executives during which he grilled AbbVie’s CEO Richard Gonzalez over gaming patents. The company has used various patent rules to keep generic competitors to the rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira off the U.S. market, while continuing to raise its price.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is fighting the bill, saying it would create “a presumption of anti-trust violation for almost any post-approval innovation.”