Democrats Preparing Health Care Agenda
Democrats, who expect to take more seats in Congress after the midterm elections, have begun to draft a broad health care agenda that would seek to reduce prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries, provide additional funds for health insurance for children and expand embryonic stem cell research, the New York Times reports.
According to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Democrats would seek to pass legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on medications within the first 100 hours after the House convenes in the event that they take control of the chamber.
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) added that Democrats would seek additional reforms to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Under a bill drafted by Stark and other Democrats, Medicare would offer one or more prescription drug plans operated by the federal government that would "negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers with respect to the purchase price" of medications, in addition to private plans.
"I don't know that we could undo all the private plans. But at least we could offer a government-administered drug benefit," Stark said, adding, "Under the existing program, we virtually guarantee the insurance companies against loss, which is a ludicrous position for us to be in."
In addition, Democrats would seek to renew and expand SCHIP, increase funds for NIH and remove restrictions that President Bush has placed on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Democrats also would seek to investigate prescription drug prices, pharmaceutical company marketing practices and possible overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans.
Democrats have not said how they would finance their proposals, but they have said that they would consider tax increases.
According to the Times, the Democratic health care agenda would face several "significant constraints: Mr. Bush, fiscal reality and industry resistance."
For example, Bush, most Republicans and pharmaceutical companies would oppose legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on medications.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "The Democratic agenda on health care will be somewhat limited by the fact that George Bush is still president" (Pear, New York Times, 10/20).