Bill Would Require Medicare To Compare Medications
Senate legislation that would allow the government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies under the Medicare prescription drug benefit contains a provision that would require the government to conduct comparison studies on major medications, the Los Angeles Times reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 4/17).
The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 to approve the legislation (California Healthline, 4/13). The Senate is expected to consider the bill this week.
Comparison studies on the effectiveness of drugs provided to Medicare beneficiaries "could transform the market behavior of millions of patients," the Times reports.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that knowing "more about the effectiveness of the drugs that Medicare pays for ... will make Medicare a smarter shopper and help us evaluate the success of the program."
William Vaughan, senior policy analyst with Consumers Union, said, "The stuff on comparative effectiveness is certainly important, and maybe even more important than negotiating authority." Vaughan added, "When we know the facts, we will buy the stuff that works."
However, some critics of the proposal argue that it "could be a step toward creating a restrictive list of covered drugs," the Times reports.
Comparison studies are not included in the House version of the bill (HR 4) (Los Angeles Times, 4/17).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday filed cloture on the Medicare price negotiations bill. The cloture vote is expected to receive the majority of votes when it is considered on Wednesday. However, the proposal "appears to be falling short of the 60 supporters needed" to end debate, CongressDaily reports.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who has been considered to be a swing voter on the issue, on Monday said that she will vote "no" because the legislation "would limit the number of options" for beneficiaries.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), another possible swing voter, said, "It would be very difficult to negotiate in the first place, which then makes me lean more towards leaving it like it is. It is working, which makes me want to leave it like it is."
Supporters of the bill are targeting "moderate Republicans or those in potentially tough races next year," including Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Ted Stevens (Alaska), CongressDaily reports (Johnson, CongressDaily, 4/17).
AARP, a major supporter of the negotiations legislation, has "put lawmakers on notice" that it will "take pains to ensure voters know who opposed the bill," The Hill reports.
Meanwhile, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is "pushing just as hard" in opposition to the bill, according to The Hill.
AARP spokesperson Drew Nannis said, "We're not going to know until Wednesday or Thursday" whether the proposal has the 60 votes necessary to end debate.
PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson said, "In the end, this is going to be a political vote" (Young/Snyder, The Hill, 4/17).
PBS' "Nightly Business Report" on Monday reported on the bill. The segment includes comments from Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA; HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt; and Alec Phillips, an economist and vice president at Goldman Sachs (Dhue, "Nightly Business Report," PBS, 4/16).
A transcript of the segment is available online. Video of the complete program is available online until Wednesday evening.