WASHINGTON -- A bold stance on drug pricing will be a prerequisite for any candidate who wants to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, but one challenge will be differentiating the contenders from each other.
The main distinction among candidates could be between those pushing bipartisan policies and those promoting more liberal ideas that currently stand little chance of enactment. But in most cases, the bills have a list of co-sponsors that could resemble a future primary debate stage.
"Any Democrat who doesn't run on it is missing the mood of the electorate, and I think that they would be making a huge mistake," said David Mitchell, a cancer patient and founder of the group Patients for Affordable Drugs and its political action committee.
If they're not making it an issue, he said, "They ought not get anywhere near the nomination."
The positioning on drug pricing plans reflects the party's broader attempt to reject corporate influence, said Peter Maybarduk, who runs consumer watchdog Public Citizen's Global Access to Medicines campaign.
"It's going to play a role in people's understanding of candidates' philosophies and how serious they are about challenging concentrated economic power in order to make people's lives better," he said.
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So far, the potential 2020 field is comfortable rallying around drug pricing plans from Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is still mulling a bid.
Sanders introduced bills intended to lower drug prices in almost every session that he's served, starting as a House member in 1991. For many years, his proposals attracted only the most liberal Democrats -- or in many cases had no other co-sponsors.
Today, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are all original co-sponsors of a three-bill drug pricing proposal that Sanders introduced in January.
The package included a bill that would allow imports of lower-priced drugs from Canada and other industrialized countries. Another bill would require the government to negotiate directly with drug companies in Medicare's prescription drug benefit, a central part of Democrats' strategy and a key contrast with Republicans. Other legislation would strip away monopolies if drug companies sell products here for more than they are sold abroad.