White House urgently ramps up push for drug cost legislation

File photo, pharmaceuticals are seen in North Andover, Mass. Feeling a new urgency as the impeachment probe advances (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, file)
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WASHINGTON — The White House is ramping up its push to get a bill through Congress that curbs prescription drug costs, feeling a new urgency as the impeachment investigation advances amid the 2020 election campaign.

The effort has progressed beyond anything seen in years, says President Donald Trump’s top domestic policy adviser. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to confront these issues in a nonideological fashion,” adviser Joe Grogan said in a recent session with reporters.

“Unfortunately,” Grogan explained, “there are some current complications.”

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After months of dialogue, the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have parted ways on Medicare price negotiations that Pelosi advocates and Trump — unlike most Republicans — once supported in principle.

Instead Trump is backing a compromise bipartisan bill in the Senate, which does not give Medicare bargaining authority, but forces drugmakers to pay rebates if they raise prices too high.

Grogan said the administration is working to line up Republican support for the Senate bill while trying to sweeten its impact by plowing more of the government’s savings from reduced drug prices into benefits for seniors.

“We’re really at a stage on a bipartisan basis of dialing in on the final specifics,” he said at a recent event sponsored by the Alliance for Health Policy.

The pressure is on Trump.

A Gallup-West Health poll finds that 66 percent of adults don’t believe the Trump administration has made any progress, or very much progress, in limiting the rising cost of prescription drugs.

“If I were the president of the United States, facing a very difficult reelection campaign, I would want to have something to show people in this area,” said political scientist Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution.

Democrats “will be very reluctant to give the administration a win,” he added. “If they are going to do that, they are going to need something pretty solid and substantive to show their troops.”

People in the policy debate say a deal must be sealed this year or by early next at the very latest, before election season goes into overdrive.

Medicare enrollees would be the biggest winners under either bill.

The bipartisan Senate legislation would cap what Medicare beneficiaries pay out of pocket for medicines and require drugmakers to pay rebates to Medicare if they hike prices above the inflation rate. Its lead authors are Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,