There is bipartisan support for expanding access to biosimilars. But the evolution of the legislation is on hold in the debate on drug pricing
As the prescription drug pricing debate heats up again on Capitol Hill, advocates and policymakers say a bipartisan push to expand access to biosimilars could either sneak into Congress this year or end up in Congress. find itself caught in the sights of very partisan negotiations on drug prices.
The advent of biosimilars, a relatively new class of drugs, is a less politically charged topic than allowing the federal government to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs through Medicare, which is the sticking point in the industry. HR 3, The Drug Prices Bill from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California). Market research firm IQVIA estimates that the increased availability of biosimilars – cheaper versions of biologic drugs that treat cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases – could reduce the cost of drugs in the United States by $ 100 billion over five years.
Industry opposition to biosimilars has been dispersed, and policymakers on both sides support increased access and competition. Lawmakers have reintroduced several bipartisan bills to promote their use over the past few weeks, while President Joe Biden signed a bill to educate patients and providers about biosimilars, which has increasingly been passed. more in recent years but remain very little understood in the medical community and generally do not bring as much money for suppliers as for their branded counterparts.
“I don’t think there has been a real concerted effort” in Congress to promote adoption of biosimilars in the past, said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), including the invoice with representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) would seek to encourage clinicians to prescribe biosimilars through a temporary increase in reimbursement.
“We’re trying to sweeten the pot a bit to encourage doctors and hospitals to buy biosimilars,” Schrader said, adding that the treatment of biosimilars and other issues unrelated to direct price negotiation “isn’t maybe not the holy grail, but it’s a huge, huge victory if we cross the finish line.
Schrader said he was open to any legislative route for the bill, whether passed on its own – a “no-brainer” – or built into a larger price package for drugs. A similar proposal has already been adopted by the House as part of HR 3 and has also been included in a tighter drug pricing plan Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who never made it to the Senate last year.
Other recently introduced legislation The senses. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) And John Cornyn (R-Texas) would ask the Department of Health and Human Services to launch a pilot program with increased Medicare payments for providers who use biosimilars.
“All options should be on the table” to reduce prescription drug costs, including improving access to biosimilars, Bennet, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said in an email. Cornyn’s office declined to comment on the bill.
And a third bipartisan bill in the House would push Medicare Advantage plans to increase access to biosimilars by creating a star rating system based on their availability in health plans.
Despite bipartisan support for expanding access to biosimilars, sending legislation to Biden’s office may not be so straightforward given the contentious dynamics of the drug pricing debate. Democratic leaders have indicated that they plan to advancing prescription drug reform this year, including pushing for direct price negotiations, but HR 3’s prospects are less clear than when they first appeared in the House in 2019 and are even bleaker in the Senate.
Schrader said that if he supported direct price negotiation, he was unsure whether he would vote for HR 3 again because he wanted the House to pass a bill that could also wipe out the Senate.
Republicans in Congress oppose direct price negotiations, saying it would stifle pharmaceutical innovation and amount to the government establishing price controls. A Kinzinger aide said any discussion of drug pricing legislation should “include policies that increase the use of biosimilars.”
Lawmakers are keen to show voters they are taking action to curb high drug prices. Meaghan Rose Smith, executive director of the biosimilars advocacy group Forum, said that, given the uncertainty surrounding HR 3, taking steps to expand access to biosimilars could lower patients’ drug costs and offer lawmakers a bipartisan political victory before 2022. midterm elections.
“I think the window is narrowing” to pass meaningful drug pricing legislation this year, Smith said. “If we’re going to do something to lower the cost of health care and control drug spending, these are pretty obvious solutions.”
Unlike other drug reform proposals, efforts on biosimilars are also less likely to meet uniform opposition from industry groups, in large part because some of their members now manufacture biosimilars. But individual companies have taken action against them. This week, for example, a House committee report accused AbbVie Inc. of engaging in “a series of anti-competitive strategies” to block the introduction of biosimilars for its hit drug Humira.
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization did not respond to a request for comment on the professional group’s position on legislation to expand access to biosimilars.
Overall, the lack of a concerted industry response means these bills could go relatively under the radar. But consumer advocates aren’t as focused on biosimilars either, which could lessen the urgency for lawmakers to pass the legislation, said Sean Dickson, director of health policy at the West Health Policy Center.
“The public understands the need to tackle drug prices directly,” Dickson said, “but the idea of moving people to a cheaper but still expensive drug doesn’t have the same kind of push.”