House Energy and Commerce Panel Amends GOP Medicare Prescription Drug Plan
The House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday began its markup of a Republican-backed Medicare reform package, which in part would provide Medicare beneficiaries a prescription drug benefit, the Washington Post reports (Goldstein, Washington Post, 6/20). The committee did not vote on the complete package, and markup of the bill is expected to continue today, possibly extending into Friday. Under the $350 billion, 10-year House GOP plan, Medicare beneficiaries would purchase drug coverage directly from private insurance companies. They would pay a $250 annual deductible and a $34 monthly premium. Low-income seniors would be exempt from the premiums and deductible. The government would cover 80% of seniors' annual prescription drug costs up to $1,000, 50% up to $2,000 and none of the costs between $2,000 and $3,800, after which a catastrophic benefit would begin. Originally, the cap was set at $4,500, but the House Ways and Means Committee lowered the limit before it approved the bill yesterday. Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Billy Tauzin (R-La.) said he may introduce an amendment today to lower the cap to $3,700 (CongressDaily/AM, 6/20).
When the committee began its markup of the legislation, Republicans voted to divide the package into 12 bills, a procedural move intended to limit the ability of Democrats to offer amendments (Pear, New York Times, 6/20). Tauzin struck down several Democrat-sponsored amendments for "not being germane," CongressDaily reports (Fulton/Rovner, CongressDaily, 6/19). Republicans, however, successfully added a provision that would allow Medicare to negotiate "deeper discounts and better prices" than Medicaid currently receives, according to Tauzin. Republicans said the provision would save $19 billion and would allow them to reduce the out-of-pocket spending cap in the legislation. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he would offer an amendment to eliminate the provision (CongressDaily/AM, 6/20).
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday "lin[ed] up behind" the House Republican plan, releasing an analysis that found competition among private insurers that offer the pharmaceutical benefit would reduce retail drug prices. According to an HHS review of the GOP bill, seniors would save as much as 70% on their out-of-pocket costs. In addition, seniors would save 60% to 85% per prescription (Carter, AP/Nando Times, 6/19). The analysis also found that copayments under the GOP bill would be lower than Senate Democrats have suggested, the Post reports (Washington Post, 6/20). "This new plan is a strong, effective approach that should serve as a catalyst for enacting legislation this year that will provide seniors with needed savings on their prescription drugs," Thompson said (HHS release, 6/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.