DRUG BENEFIT: House GOP Leaders Block Democratic Proposal
The Senate yesterday endorsed a proposal that would mandate the creation of a Medicare prescription drug benefit this year, but GOP leaders used a procedural device to block the measure from becoming part of their $1.83 trillion "budget blueprint," the Baltimore Sun reports. Fifty-one senators -- all 45 Democrats and six Republicans, four of whom are up for re-election -- voted in favor of the proposal, which would have required the chamber to first consider a drug benefit before passing any tax cuts. Republican leaders argued that the provision, sponsored by Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.), was "unnecessary" because they already intended to provide the drug benefit before cutting taxes. But Robb maintained, "We have an obligation to our seniors, and future generations of seniors, to strengthen and modernize Medicare by adding a prescription drug benefit. Unfortunately, the Republican budget does not require that Congress spend a dime on this vital benefit." The GOP budget blueprint sets aside $40 billion over five years for Medicare reform and a benefit, but does not explicitly order its creation. Democrats say the vote tally "shows that the momentum is on their side." Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said, "It is telling because it shows the political potency of the issue. It'll be magnified five times over here because all House members think they are vulnerable" (Hosler, 4/6).
'New Health Care Villains'
Meanwhile, Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), who is running for re- election, announced yesterday that he is drafting a plan to reduce disparities in drug prices between the Unites States, Canada and Mexico. Calling drug companies "the new health care villains," Gorton said that unless they propose their own solution, he will introduce a bill this month to "prohibit drugmakers from charging higher wholesale prices in the United States than in Canada or Mexico." Gorton emphasized that he does not want to fix prices, noting, "I am simply saying that manufacturers can no longer discriminate against American consumers by charging Canadian and Mexican pharmacies lower prices than they charge Americans for the same product" (Pear, New York Times, 4/6).