Biden and Sanders are working on a bill to expand drug price negotiations

Biden and Sanders are working on a bill to expand drug price negotiations
Biden and Sanders are working on a bill to expand drug price negotiations

President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced Tuesday that they are working together to expand the federal government’s ability to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies.

The leading Democrats wrote in a commentary published by USA today that they hope to pass legislation that would expand the Inflation Reduction Act’s Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Program to cover 50 drugs per year, a significant increase from the current 10 drugs.

“There is no rational reason why Americans have been forced for decades to pay by far the highest prices in the world for the prescription drugs they need,” wrote Biden and Sanders, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The Drug Price Negotiation Program is arguably Biden’s greatest health policy success, with reducing health care costs being a central pillar of his re-election campaign.

As currently drafted, the Inflation Reduction Act allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices for the ten most expensive drugs covered by Medicare Part D.

The drugs selected for the 2023 negotiation cycle accounted for $50.5 billion in Medicare Part D spending between June 2022 and May 2023, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That’s about 20% of the total gross cost of prescription drugs covered by Medicare Part D.

Biden and Sanders pointed out in their opinion piece that not only must the number of negotiable drugs be increased, but that negotiating authority must also be extended to non-Medicare patients.

“At a time when many Americans are struggling with myriad chronic diseases, no one in our country should be forced to pay more than $2,000 a year for the prescription drugs they need, not just seniors,” the Democrats wrote.

Sanders and Biden explicitly attacked Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, the makers of the groundbreaking weight-loss drugs Wegovy and Zepbound, respectively.

Novo’s Ozempic and Lilly’s Mounjaro are drugs for type 2 diabetes and contain the same chemical compound as Wegovy and Zepbound, respectively. The cost of treating diabetes is covered by Medicare, but federal law prohibits Medicare money from being spent on drugs intended solely for weight loss.

A bipartisan bill with support from the House and Senate to amend the law to require Medicare Part D to cover weight-loss drugs is currently moving through Congress, in part because of the remarkable success of Wegovy and Zepbound in curbing cardiovascular disease.

If this proposal is accepted, Wegovy and Zepbound could be eligible for the Drug Price Negotiation Program.

However, Biden and Sanders threatened Novo and Lilly if these and other companies did not voluntarily begin to lower their drug prices.

“If Novo Nordisk and other pharmaceutical companies refuse to significantly lower prescription drug prices in our country and put an end to their greed, we will do everything in our power to put a stop to it,” Biden and Sanders wrote. “Novo Nordisk must significantly lower the prices of Ozempic and Wegovy.”


Sanders has been a vocal critic of Novo Nordisk in recent months, using his position on the committee to bring the company into Congress’s crosshairs.

A Senate HELP hearing, which would have included the president and executive vice president of Novo’s North American business, was scheduled for mid-June, pending a subpoena for the drug company’s executives to testify, but the hearing was canceled.

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