Trump aide calls drug price deal possible if impeachment fades

The aide said Democrats were making it harder to achieve the goal while being “distracted” by impeachment

Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy Joe Grogan sits to the left of President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room at the White House on April 04, 2019. White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council Executive Director Scott Turner sits to Trump’s right. On Monday Grogan said the White House could strike a deal with Democrats on drug prices if the impeachment inquiry ultimately doesn't go anywhere. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s top domestic policy adviser on Monday predicted that the White House could strike a deal with House Democrats on drug prices — if the impeachment inquiry into the president ultimately doesn’t go anywhere.

Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan said House Democrats deserve credit for proposing a drug price bill, which he called ambitious. He said he met last week with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s health care adviser, Wendell Primus, as well as House committee staff, and the two sides had a “great” conversation about the legislation.

[Political tensions escalate as drug pricing bills move forward]

But Grogan said the White House wasn’t ready to issue a firm position on the bill and suggested that the Democrats were making it harder to achieve the goal while being “distracted” by impeachment.

“We’ll see how all this stuff around impeachment ends,” Grogan said at an event held by the research firm Prevision Policy and the patient group Friends of Cancer Research.

“But assuming that it all just fizzles and explodes, the Democrats will have absolutely nothing to show for their tenure, so they’re going to need to come together quickly on some serious policies that the president can sign,” he said, pointing to the North American free trade agreement and drug prices as two obvious areas for compromise.

“I think there is an opportunity to get there and it is a shame that they have gotten distracted at this point,” he added.

Grogan also predicted that if the 2010 health care law is struck down by the courts, such as through a case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, Democrats could try to link drug price bills with policies to bolster the law’s health insurance coverage. But he suggested that would be another way a drug price deal could be derailed.

“The only red line I ever gave Pelosi’s office on drug pricing was don’t add money into the ACA,” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act. “Don’t try and throw more government resources into a failed system.”

As Grogan outlined the potential for compromise, he noted that one of the White House’s key priorities is restructuring Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, Part D.

A redesign that would put a limit on patients’ cost-sharing and reduce the government’s liability for high-cost drugs is part of both the House bill and a Senate Finance Committee bill.

While Grogan didn’t endorse the Finance bill outright, he offered praise for the effort. He suggested a tweak, saying that rebates the bill would require if drug prices outpaced inflation should go back to patients, rather than the Medicare program, as the legislation outlines.

“Simplifying the benefit makes a lot of sense for seniors, it makes a lot of sense for policymakers and makes a lot of sense for all of the stakeholders and it would be great to get it done,” he said, adding: “We want to see the Part D savings stay in the Part D program.”

He said lowering drug prices so that they are similar to costs in other developed nations remains a priority for the administration.

Grogan said the White House is still working on a proposal that would link the reimbursement rates for some Medicare drugs to prices paid by other countries, emphasizing the nearly year-long delay since the policy was first announced stemmed from trying to get it right.

“It’s objectively not fair for the American taxpayer, it’s objectively not fair to the American patient, so we have to rethink how it’s done,” he said. “Clearly, it’s something that grabs people when you talk about the differential between the U.S. and so many countries.”

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