The U.S. Senate once again lost an opportunity to repeal the 2.3% medical device tax this past week when procedural maneuvers were used to stop an amendment to repeal the tax from even being voted upon.
Republican Senators attempted to attach the repeal to a “tax extenders” bill that would have extended several expiring tax provisions, but Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow a vote on the amendment. In fact, Republicans have attempted to offer amendments to repeal the tax a number of times, but have been stopped by procedural maneuvers by Reid, even though a significant number of Democrats would vote for repeal.
Reid has said that he will not allow any votes on Obamacare-related issues, and is therefore blocking votes on popular and important legislation to stop what he believes are politically motivated votes to repeal this tax. In fact, during the government shut-down last fall, Republicans offered to reopen the government in exchange for a repeal of the medical device tax, but Reid refused. This is obviously a big deal to him, and finding a path around him will be difficult.
This, unfortunately, represents the ugly side of Congress, and is one reason that Congress is so unpopular: the tax is unpopular, stymies innovation, is raising prices for consumers, and, according to the Congressional Research Service, “is challenging to justify,” but one Senator has the power to stop it.
In the meantime, however, Congress and regulators continue to work on other issues that are important to the life sciences industry. For example, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has held a number of hearings on the 21st Century Cures goal of accelerating the discovery, development, and delivery cycle for innovative new biomedical products. Specifically, there have been several hearings on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Report on Drug Innovation.
Congressman Fred Upton, the Chairman of the Committee, said “In their report, the president’s advisors found that the nation’s biomedical innovation ecosystem is under significant stress, citing the patent cliff facing the pharmaceutical industry, declining investment from venture capital and decreasing research and development in critical areas, including Alzheimer’s. We have heard similar concerns in our discussions with patients, innovators, and thought leaders.” The hearings have recommended a number of steps, including a suggestion that the Food and Drug Administration expand use of its accelerated approval authority to approve medicines for those with serious diseases and no available therapies and reduce the cost of clinical trials.