Democrats advance health measures in sweeping bill

It was a huge weekend for Democrats, as the Senate passed the long-delayed health care, climate and tax bill. Here’s a look at the key health provisions:

Medicare can negotiate lower prices


The bill would allow Medicare to negotiate prices for some drugs for the first time, a policy Democrats have been trying to enact for years over the fierce objections of the pharmaceutical industry. The provisions save more than $200 billion over 10 years.

  • It would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for 10 high-cost drugs beginning in 2026, ramping up to 20 drugs by 2029. There is a steep penalty if a drug company doesn’t come to the table: a tax of up to 95 percent of the sales of the drug. There is also a ceiling that the negotiated price cannot rise above.
  • In a deal with moderates including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), only older drugs are subject to negotiation after a period of nine years for most drugs and 13 years for more complex “biologic” drugs. That means the negotiations are more limited than many Democrats wanted.

Drug costs can be capped but largely only for Medicare

The bill includes other measures to cap drug costs. The provisions still largely apply only to seniors on Medicare, not the millions of people who get health insurance through their jobs, in part because complex Senate rules limited how expansive the provisions would be.

  • If drug companies raise prices in Medicare faster than the rate of inflation, they must pay rebates back to the government for the difference.
  • In one of the most tangible provisions for patients, the bill caps out-of-pocket drug costs at $2,000 a year for seniors on Medicare, starting in 2025.

People enrolled in ACA plans get an extension on premium assistance


The measure also builds on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by extending enhanced financial assistance to help people enrolled in ACA plans afford premiums for three years.