Trump, Pelosi Aides Talk Drug Costs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Even as the impeachment battle rumbled, senior White House and Democratic aides sat down Tuesday to discuss details of drug pricing legislation, officials on both sides said.

Passing a law to curb prescription drug prices remains a top policy priority for President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite her decision to launch an impeachment inquiry into the president's efforts to get a foreign leader to investigate political rival Joe Biden.

Both sides stressed they were not negotiating during Tuesday's meeting at the White House, but instead were exchanging information and asking questions. Joe Grogan, a top domestic policy adviser to Trump, called it "a very cordial and productive working session."

Even in the best of times, a prescription drug bill would be a heavy lift for a divided Congress and the Trump White House. But the talks showed there's movement, even if the end result remains highly uncertain.

Pelosi spokesman Henry Connelly said her top staff provided a briefing on how the California Democrat's recently introduced drug pricing legislation would work. The bill would authorize Medicare to negotiate prices, require drugmakers to pay rebates if they raise prices more than the inflation rate, and limit seniors' copays for medicines to $2,000 a year.

Other Democratic leadership aides and top committee staffers also attended the session.

In addition to Grogan and other White House aides, the administration was represented by budget office staff as well as the Department of Health and Human Services.

Grogan said they peppered Pelosi's staff with detailed questions about how her bill would work. For example, what would it take for Medicare to set up a new office to undertake the complex work of negotiating prices for top tier medications?

"At the outset we made clear this wasn't a negotiating session," said Grogan. "This was a working session for us to understand how their bill worked."

Medicare negotiations are a nonstarter for most congressional Republicans, who hew to the belief that private insurers and pharmacy benefit managers should be the ones bargaining on behalf of seniors. But Trump as a presidential candidate had backed Medicare negotiations. Unlike other Republicans, Trump has refrained from publicly criticizing Pelosi's bill.

For any legislation to pass, it will have to involve a bipartisan compromise.

"Ultimately it is going to be the president's call what we can embrace or not," said Grogan.

(KR)