Senate Arizona State Senate|Stock Photo

Arizona House Democrats voted unanimously to pass the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. Medicare advocates are now urging state senators to take action.

House Democrats and Medicare advocates are cheering last Thursday’s passage of H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The bipartisan bill passed the House with a 230-192 vote and unanimous support from Arizona Democratic congressional representatives.

The Association of American Retired Persons (AARP) Arizona commended Reps. Tom O’Halleran, Ann Kirkpatrick, Raul Grijalva, Ruben Gallego, and Greg Stanton for helping pass the bill. 

“This bipartisan legislation is a bold step toward lowering prescription drug prices and high out-of-pocket costs for millions of older Americans, including our 900,000 plus Arizona members,” stated AARP Arizona in a press release.

If passed, the bill could lower the costs of prescription drugs by capping out-of-pocket drug costs and empower Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies. This, in turn, would make those prices available to Americans with private insurance, said Rep. Tom O’Halleran.

“For too long, the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs have forced Arizona seniors, veterans, and families to make the choice between life-saving medication and putting food on the table,” he added in a statement after the bill passed the house. “There is no reason hard-working Americans should pay three or four times more for their drugs than the same drugs in other countries.”

Rep. Greg Standon (D-AZ) echoed O’Halleran’s sentiment. 

“It is unacceptable that families are burdened with the astronomical costs of life-saving treatments when faced with cancer diagnoses — or diabetes, asthma, HIV, or multiple sclerosis diagnoses,” he said after the vote.

O’Halleran, a strong proponent of the measure partially because of the benefits it would bring to rural Arizonans, said he was pleased the House also voted to pass his amendment to award grants to hospitals in rural and medically underserved areas to establish a Graduate Medical Education Program, or partner with an approved hospital to host residents.

“As we work to move H.R. 3 through the Senate and to the president’s desk, we must ensure that our rural communities are not left on the back burner,” he reiterated in his statement.

The District 1 Representative’s amendment passed 351 – 73 with bipartisan support.

“I was humbled to see my amendment to improve health care in rural areas pass with broad, bipartisan support,” said O’Halleran. “Together, we took real action to address a national crisis that we cannot afford to delay for one more day.”

Now that H.R. 3 has passed the House, proponents say it’s time for the Senate to act. 

“AARP Arizona urges Senators to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act. The President and Congress will need to work together to get this done. Americans are desperate for relief from high prescription drug prices,AARP Arizona officials said.

However, Arizona House Republicans unanimously voted against the bill, and the Senate already declared the bill “dead on arrival.” Interestingly, District 8’s Rep. Debbie Lesko voted against the measure, but she did vote in support of O’Halleran’s amendment to the bill.

The White House also indicated President Donald Trump will veto the bill if it comes his way, although the President vowed to allow Medicare to “negotiate like crazy” as a 2016 campaign promise and previously voiced supporting the measure. 

As recently as September, President Trump tweeted, “I like Sen. Grassley’s drug pricing bill very much, and it’s great to see Speaker Pelosi’s bill today. Let’s get it done in a bipartisan way!”

However, he backed away from supporting H.R. 3 in the last few weeks.

Locally, Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Marth McSally (R-AZ), have not committed to supporting the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, although both have been working on additional bipartisan measures to address healthcare costs.

In October, The Hill reported that McSally, along with Senators Thom Tillis (N.C.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), and Joni Ernst (Iowa), who all face potentially tough races in 2020, have either expressed concerns about the legislation or declined to back it because it “breaks with GOP orthodoxy and invites backlash from both conservatives and the pharmaceutical industry.”

Previously, Sen. McSally told the Arizona Republic, “There are a lot of really good things in that legislation and we’re making sure there’s not any unintended consequences. But we appreciate the intent. We definitely support the intent.”