Democratic Lawmakers To Focus on Medicare Reform
Democratic lawmakers next year likely will seek to pass legislation that would allow the HHS secretary to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on medications under the Medicare prescription drug benefit, but "they have not decided how to do it," the Washington Post reports (Washington Post, 11/19).
According to Gannett/Detroit Free Press, such legislation "sounds like a simple and popular concept but delivering on it could be difficult" (Wheeler, Gannett/Detroit Free Press, 11/19). Such legislation could involve "removing a few words in the law that prohibit those negotiations, requiring the government to negotiate, setting specific discounts drug companies must provide or creating a government drug plan to compete with the private-sector plans," the Post reports (Washington Post, 11/19).
President Bush and CMS officials oppose such legislation, and the Congressional Budget Office and agency actuaries have concluded that direct negotiations with pharmaceutical companies would not result in additional savings for Medicare (Gannett/Detroit Free Press, 11/19).
Incoming Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "We need to be very honest in getting the facts" (Goldstein/Layton, Washington Post , 11/19).
John Rother -- director of policy and planning at AARP, which supports direct negotiations with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on medications under the Medicare prescription drug benefit -- said that the development of legislation to allow the practice is "a lot easier said than done" because no "uniform view" exists on "how exactly it would happen." He added, "People don't understand why Medicare can't use its clout to help them out."
Ken Johnson, a senior vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "The federal government doesn't negotiate prices -- it dictates prices." Johnson added, "History has taught us that price controls invariably lead to shortages and fewer choices for consumers" (Gannett/Detroit Free Press, 11/19).
In related news, Baucus on Thursday said that next year he plans to introduce legislation to reduce the number of Medicare prescription drug plans available to beneficiaries to help simplify the program. Baucus also said that the committee will hold "vigorous" hearings on the issue of Medicare costs, although "he did not detail how the committee would approach those problems," the AP/Seattle Times reports (Jalonick, AP/Seattle Times, 11/17).
"Longer term, key Democrats would like to reverse broader changes by Republicans that have tilted Medicare ... toward the private sector," the Post reports. In addition, Democratic lawmakers "would like to get rid of a crucial, if technical" provision in the 2003 Medicare law that "eventually could allow Congress ... to restrict the program's spending," according to the Post (Washington Post , 11/19).
- Michael Tanner, Charlotte Observer: Medicare reforms proposed by Democratic lawmakers might "well be a nightmare for American health consumers," Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, writes in an Observer opinion piece. Tanner adds, "No one knows for certain what the new Democratic majority has in mind, but its initial proposals -- expanding Medicaid and the Medicare prescription drug program -- are certainly steps in the direction of more government interference in the medical marketplace" (Tanner, Charlotte Observer, 11/20).
- Ronald Brownstein, Los Angeles Times: Democratic lawmakers who seek to pass legislation that would allow direct negotiations with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on medications under the Medicare prescription drug benefit should "seriously examine the experience of other countries that have tried the practice," Brownstein writes in a Times opinion piece (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 11/19).
- Jonathan Chait, Los Angeles Times: "Horribly designed though it was," the Medicare prescription drug benefit did not cause Republican losses in the midterm elections, Chait writes in a Times opinion piece. Chait adds, "Poll results indicate that about 90% of the public support adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare" (Chait, Los Angeles Times, 11/19).
- Geoffrey Nunberg, Los Angeles Times, 11/19: "Democrats will need to do some more explicit messaging" and "take substantive steps to rebuild their brand," such as "fixing" the Medicare prescription drug benefit, Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California-Berkeley, writes in a Times opinion piece (Nunberg, Los Angeles Times, 11/19).
- Ron Suskind, Washington Post: Democratic lawmakers next year likely will hold hearings on the "repeated practice of strong-arming experts who stray off message" used by the Bush administration, Suskind writes in a Post opinion piece. He added that "high-intensity witnesses" might include Richard Foster, a CMS actuary "who was threatened with dismissal for trying to alert Congress about the deceptive cost estimates on the Medicare prescription drug program" (Suskind, Washington Post, 11/19).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Thursday examined the issue of direct negotiations with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on medications under the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The segment includes comments from Richard Evans, a pharmaceutical analyst at Sanford Bernstein; Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA; and David Shove, head of health care research at the Prudential Equity Group (Prakash, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/16).
Audio of the segment is available online.