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Senate lawmakers agree to Dems’ higher drug price controls ::

– Senate lawmakers narrowed down Democrats’ plan to curb drug prices but left it largely unscathed Saturday, Democrats said, as party leaders began moving their sprawling economic bill through the chamber.

Elizabeth McDonough, the chamber’s rules arbitrator, said provisions forcing drugmakers to pay rebates if the prices of products sold to private insurers rise above inflation should be eliminated. Pharmaceutical companies have to pay penalties if the prices of drugs purchased by Medicare go up too much.

Other restrictions on rising drug costs remain, allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of drugs it buys, limiting seniors’ out-of-pocket costs, and providing free vaccines.

“This is an important victory for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “Despite the unfortunate verdict that the inflation rebate is more limited in scope, the overall program remains intact and we are one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions of Americans.”

The lawmakers’ decision came after a 10-day period in which Democrats resurrected top components of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda after they appeared dead. In rapid-fire deals with two of the Democrats’ most unlikely senators — first conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginia, then Arizona centrist Kirsten Sinema — Schumer put together a wide-ranging package addressing climate change, energy, health care costs and deficit reduction. In the wake of congressional elections this fall.

Dropping penalties on drugmakers for raising prices on private insurers is a clear setback for Democrats. The decision reduces the incentive for pharmaceutical companies to limit the fees they charge, increasing costs for patients.

It would reduce Democrats’ overall drug restrictions by an estimated $288 billion in 10-year savings — possibly tens of billions of dollars, analysts said.

Even so, the congressional ruling allowed Democrats to promote drug provisions as a boon to consumers at a time when voters are angered by the worst inflation in four decades.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he was “disappointed” that penalties for higher drug prices for privately insured consumers were dropped, adding that “the legislation significantly checks Big Pharma’s ability to raise prices.”

Schumer plans to begin Senate votes on the overall bill later Saturday. The measure faces near-unanimous Republican opposition, but with support from Manchin and Sinema, Democrats are able to push the measure through the Senate 50-50, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote.

House passage could come when that chamber briefly returns from recess on Friday.

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