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Rep. Greg Walden On Drug Pricing


For those hoping that Congress would do something about the high cost of prescription drug prices, 2019 looked like the year it would happen. Voters wanted it. Members of both Houses and both parties wanted it, and so did President Trump. The House just passed a drug pricing bill known as H.R. 3, but now Senator Mitch McConnell says he won't bring it for a vote. So is there any hope of reining in rising drug prices?

We're joined by Republican Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon, who has proposed his own legislation. Good morning.

GREG WALDEN: Hey, good morning. Good to be with you.

FADEL: So there's been a massive push to remake prescription drug pricing. Why can't Congress deliver it? What happened with this bipartisan push over - that we heard about all of this year?

WALDEN: Yeah, yeah. No, I share the frustration. We've done a lot over the years to try and bring about competition in this space and bring down prices. We did so in a bipartisan manner in the last Congress, getting more generics to market than any time in one year as the result of changes we enacted for the FDA approval process. And we hope to build on that going into this year.

And frankly, we were making good progress in the Energy and Commerce Committee on a bipartisan basis to pass legislation to stop some of the bad behaviors of the big pharmaceutical companies. And those bills moved out of committee unanimously. But unfortunately, on the way to the House floor, the speaker inserted some provisions that were very partisan and bollixed the whole process up.

FADEL: So you blame the Democrats for a lack of progress here?

WALDEN: Well, H.R. 3, the bill you referenced in the opening that's now in the Senate, passed on a - basically a party line vote. And unfortunately, all the independent analyses show they trade off costs for cures. And I don't - I think that's a Hobson's choice. I think it's a false choice. I think it's one we don't have to have.

FADEL: Can I ask, though, I mean, this bill was estimated to save some $345 billion. What would be a problem with that? And what couldn't be worked on...


FADEL: ...Between the both parties to move something that had gone out of the House into the Senate forward?

WALDEN: Yeah, I could give you a bill that probably would double those savings, but it's all a trade-off at cost for innovation and cures. And the independent analyses that were done, including by the Congressional Budget Office, said we could lose dozens to hundreds of new drugs that would never be discovered. America's the innovation hub. And while the American people want lower prices, they don't want to go so far as to get in the way of innovation for these terrible diseases we're all trying to find cures for.

FADEL: But I guess what I'm not understanding is what are cures good for if people can't afford to pay for them?

WALDEN: Yeah. No, I hear that argument, and it's a real one and something we need to address. And there are ways to do that. But first, you've got to stop the bad behaviors the pharmaceutical companies, like CREATES would do. That's now law. The president signed it. McConnell moved it. That was in our H.R. 19 package. And, in fact, there were four provisions in that package that I put together with our team that made it all the way through and, with Senator McConnell's support, ended up on the president's desk before Congress left for the holidays. Those provisions are now law. We should keep working on this together in a bipartisan way.

FADEL: You know, one of the big criticisms about Big Pharma, as you mentioned, is that there's money flowing into Congress. And actually, Kaiser Health News did a whole study on the recipients of that, and you're among the top 10 recipients...

WALDEN: Sure. Yeah.

FADEL: ...Of those - of that drug money. So can you stop them if congresspeople...


FADEL: ...Are still taking money from them?

WALDEN: Well, sure. And you could go through every member of Congress and find some group that supports them or hopes they support them. For me, all anybody gets is a thank-you. And I've stood up to Big Pharma. They didn't like some of these bills we're pushing. I make my choices based on what's best for the people that sent me to Congress, not on who's written a check. And so we've got to find a sweet spot here. And I think we still can.

And by the way, our bill, as does the Democrat bill, puts a cap on Medicare Part D costs for seniors at a couple thousand a year so they'll have certainty for life that they'll never have to spend more than a couple thousand a year out of pocket. So there are things we can do here I think we could find common ground on and get into law.

FADEL: Greg Walden, Republican congressman from Oregon, thank you so much.

WALDEN: Good to be with you, Leila. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.