There are dueling commercials airing in central New York after U.S. Rep. John Katko voted against the Democrats' prescription drug price reform bill in December.
The Republican-aligned American Action Network launched a $4 million ad campaign to show support for Republicans, including Katko, who voted against the Democratic proposal. House Majority Forward, a Democratic super political action committee, is funding a $2.2 million ad campaign that includes a commercial criticizing Katko's vote.
The legislation proposed by Democrats and named in memory of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings would allow Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. The negotiated prices would be available to Medicare beneficiaries and those enrolled in private insurance plans.
The bill would use savings from the lowering of drug prices to invest in research for cures and treatments. And there would be a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.
The House passed the measure in December. Democrats and a pair of Republicans supported the bill. Katko joined a vast majority of his GOP colleagues in opposing the plan.
In an interview Thursday, Katko acknowledged that high prescription drug prices are a problem. But he voted against the Democratic proposal because it was "highly partisan" and would "stifle innovation and growth."
One of his concerns with the legislation is a provision that would penalize pharmaceutical companies that don't negotiate drug prices with Medicare or don't agree to charge a fair price. The fine would be hefty — at least 65% of the manufacturer's annual gross sales. It could rise to 95% if the drug company doesn't reach an agreement on a price.
"That would be catastrophic to research and development," Katko said.
Before the vote, Katko said he heard from constituents and groups that opposed the bill. His office provided a letter from Multiple Sclerosis Resources of Central New York, an East Syracuse-based organization, that was sent to New York's congressional delegation. In the letter, the group urged lawmakers to "stand up against this unwise proposal."
While he opposes the Democratic proposal, he supports a competing bill — H.R. 19 — introduced by Republicans. That legislation, he said, would reduce prescription drug prices by setting out-of-pocket limits for Medicare beneficiaries and achieve price transparency by mandating that drug manufacturers notify consumers to explain price increases of at least 10% in a year or 25% over a three-year period.
Katko added that the bill would increase the availability of generic drugs, cap insulin costs, speed up the Food and Drug Administration's approval process for new drugs and require pharmaceutical companies to disclose the cost of prescription drugs in advertisements.
"All of those things would have a dramatic effect on the price of drugs and it wouldn't stifle (innovation)," he said.
The Republican alternative was introduced in December and referred to a House subcommittee. It's unlikely the GOP bill will receive a vote in the Democratic-controlled House.
With the election less than a year away, Katko believes House Democrats called the vote "so that they could then run commercials saying people like me are bad guys because we voted against prescription drug price reform."
The House Majority Forward's ad critical of Katko's vote described it as "a new low" for the congressman. But Katko disputes the claim that he opposes addressing high prescription drug prices.
"That's not true," he said. "I absolutely support it and H.R. 19 is reflective of that."
Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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