116th Congress: House Democrats Poised to Investigate Prescription Drug Pricing

As Democrats secured the House in the midterm elections last week, many industries and issues became front and center as likely targets of Congressional oversight by committees soon to be led by Democratic chairs. One issue at the forefront has long been drug pricing. While in the minority, members from multiple committees have sent letters to pharmaceutical companies, published staff reports, and pursued investigations on drug pricing and related issues. Many of those members now have the gavel and Democrats see the high price of prescription drugs as a rare area of common ground with the White House. It is also an issue personally championed by soon-to-be Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D CA). She recently highlighted it in her victory speech following the midterms and also met with PhRMA's board of directors several months ago in a meeting described as a "come-to-Jesus" moment for the industry on drug pricing.

With this backdrop, we anticipate that the House will take up drug pricing early in the 116th Congress and cast a wide net in the industry, starting with the following committees and members already well-positioned to take on the issue:

  • House Oversight and Government Reform: As Ranking Member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has repeatedly investigated drug companies and issued staff reports on escalating drug prices, including inquiries sent to multiple drug companies related to the rising costs of multiple sclerosis (MS) drugs. With broad jurisdiction, Rep. Cummings has confirmed publicly that he will use his Chairmanship to dig deeper into drug pricing and related healthcare issues, and continue his ongoing "Investigation of Skyrocketing Prescription Drug Prices." Also recall that this Congress will not be the first time the committee confronts the pharmaceutical industry—just two years ago, it called Mylan's CEO before Congress as part of a bipartisan investigation after the company hiked EpiPen prices.
  • House Energy and Commerce: Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) on E&C has been a drug-pricing hawk for over a decade and in the early months of the Trump Administration, partnered with Rep. Cummings in a White House meeting on prescription drug pricing. Representatives Welch and Cummings also partnered last year in the investigation of rapid increases in the price of MS medications. Rep. Welch's focus on pharmaceutical and healthcare costs also may overlap with inquiries and hearings tied to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Depending on whether Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) gets the Health Subcommittee gavel, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), a longtime critic of the drug industry with regard to high insulin prices, is likely to chair E&C's Health Subcommittee or its Oversight Subcommittee. She is also running for House Democratic Whip, challenging James Clyburn (D-SC) for the number three spot in House leadership.
  • House Ways and Means: Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), a frontrunner to chair the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, has been a vocal critic of the Trump Administration for not going far enough on drug pricing. As he stated earlier this year, "[a]lmost three years ago, I formed an Affordable Prescription Drug Task Force to support continued innovation, while restraining drug makers with government-approved monopolies from charging monopoly prices—whatever the sick or dying will pay for relief. We've watched President Trump say many of the right things about spiraling costs, but take none of the right actions." Look for Rep. Doggett to push both the White House and the industry, using a Subcommittee with broad jurisdiction over Medicare, Medicaid, and prescription drug pricing issues for federal providers.

Venable's bipartisan congressional investigations team has represented scores of companies, organizations, institutions, and individuals before Congress in numerous investigations. Contact any of the contributors if you have any questions or to learn more.