public-policy newsletter

Bill Highlight: Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act (H.R. 987)

July 18, 2019

By Terrence Kane

In May, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 987, a bipartisan omnibus bill that aims to increase healthcare access and lower prescription drug prices. The Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act combines seven bills that affect change across the healthcare arena, primarily broken into two major sections: drug pricing and health insurance coverage. Three bills are related to the former and four to the latter.

The bill would aim to lower drug prices by restructuring the patent process in a way that prevents large pharmaceutical companies from developing de facto monopolies over drug production. The three prescription drug bills focus on increasing research and access to generic drugs and speeding up the process for generic drugs to arrive on the market. The legislation would do this by limiting the exclusivity claims of large pharmaceutical companies, preventing them from paying other companies to keep generic drugs off the market. The bill would likely increase the number of generic drugs that are brought to market, gradually pushing down high prescription drug prices.

Additionally, the legislation would attempt to increase insurance coverage in the U.S. To do this, the bill would limit access to short-term, limited duration insurance plans which have been shown to discriminate against and increase premiums for consumers with pre-existing conditions. Second, the law would increase funding for health insurance navigator programs and Affordable Care Act (ACA) outreach and education programs. These programs, which lost 90% of their funding under the current administration, are meant to help businesses and individuals find and enroll in appropriate health insurance plans. The bill would also change how the programs define success to place more emphasis on reaching new communities, rather than focusing solely on application numbers. Each state would be required to have no less than two navigator programs, with at least one being, or collaborating with, a community-based organization. Finally, the bill would award more fund to states to open and operate state-level health insurance markets, with special attention paid to states that have not already opened such marketplaces.


Impact on Human Services

AARP notes that “drugs often cost more than patients can afford,” and that generic drugs should be made available to the public more quickly in order to support the needs of older Americans.  Additionally, programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are essential for people with disabilities. The Arc notes that “Medicaid is overwhelmingly the largest funding source of long term individual and family supports” in the intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) service system, and that increased access to the program is essential to the well-being of people with disabilities.

This bill would have wide-ranging effects on the human service sector, including an increase in the number of drugs available on the market and more Americans enrolling in government healthcare plans, particularly CHIP and Medicaid. The legislation would make it easier for children, families, people with disabilities, and older adults to access the supports they need to thrive.


What Happens Next?

H.R. 987 passed the house along a party line vote. It is now awaiting consideration by the Senate. The bill, which would increase the role of the Federal Government in healthcare, is likely to face stiff opposition from those who believe in more limited government intervention.

The National Assembly will continue to track H.R. 987 closely. To stay updated on the progress of H.R. 987, check out PolicySource, the National Assembly’s comprehensive database of federal legislation that impacts the human service sector.