Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, split with her party Thursday to vote in favor of a bill that would give the federal government authority to negotiate lower prescription drug costs.
The bill, a long-awaited piece of legislation championed by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would fundamentally change the way the prices of medications are set by allowing the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate the cost of a few dozen prescription drugs per year directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers.
H.R. 3 would also establish fines for manufacturers who raise their prices faster than inflation, as well as cap annual out-of-pocket expenses on drugs at $2,000 for Medicare recipients.
Thursday’s vote split nearly along party lines, 230-192. There were only two Republican defectors — Herrera Beutler and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
In a written statement sent to The Columbian, Herrera Beutler explained her reasoning.
“I’ve witnessed folks close to me struggle with chronic conditions and illness, and they’re forced to rely on increasingly expensive medication to manage their health. Congress just can’t wait any longer to take action that makes the prescription drugs they rely on more affordable — the status quo is simply unacceptable,” Herrera Beutler wrote.
“The bill before the House today was far from perfect, but it represents the only opportunity I’ve had to advance a significant proposal to the Senate and compel action to lower drug prices.”
The congresswoman also said she supported capping prescription costs for seniors, as well as a stipulation in the bill that would require drug companies to disclose accurate prices to consumers in advertisements.
“No one should have to deplete their retirement savings to pay for heart medication or risk their life rationing insulin, and no Southwest Washington family should have to choose between paying rent or filling a costly cancer treatment prescription,” Herrera Beutler wrote.
The bill is highly unlikely to make it past the Republican-controlled Senate. President Donald Trump has indicated he would veto it, should it land on his desk.
Herrera Beutler was also among the co-sponsors of a scaled-back version of the legislation introduced earlier this week, cast as a Republican-led bipartisan version of H.R. 3.
The alternative bill would similarly cap out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare recipients but avoid overall price controls. Rather than penalizing pharmaceutical companies for price hikes, the more conservative version would require the companies to submit a justification to the government on why they were raising costs.
On Monday, Herrera Beutler said she supported the more modest bill because it was passable.
“Seniors and folks who need to manage chronic conditions shouldn’t have to endure a partisan standoff where each side stubbornly clings to ideological bills that the Senate and president won’t consider — they need relief now,” the congresswoman said in a media release.
Drug companies categorically opposed both versions of the bill.