LEGISLATION ROUNDUP: Health Bills Stalled on the Hill
In the latest episode of the patients' rights soap opera, a group of House Republicans who backed the Norwood-Dingell bill last year met with Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) Monday to press for a compromise with the Senate -- even at the risk of "narrowing liability language" in the bill, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. Hastert told the GOP group that he may send a proposal to the Senate before August's political conventions. The meeting with Hastert came after the GOP group sent a letter with 29 signatures to managed care conferees, expressing their desire to pass a bill this year, even if it means compromising on liability. At Monday's meeting, however, the members warned that they will not "throw the House bill out" just to pass managed care legislation. "We all know the politics of this situation. We need something we know the president will sign," Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) said. "The House appears to be very clear on what's the minimum," Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) added. But while House Republicans have called for action on managed care, the Senate appears to have "lost interest," as Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.) has not scheduled any meetings on the issue this week. Although the Senate passed its version of a managed care bill June 30, it did not include liability for HMOs, and the measure has languished in conference committee (Fulton, 7/18).
Middle Class Champions
Meanwhile, in the latest development in the Medicare prescription drug benefit debate, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and 11 other senators sent a letter to Senate Finance Chair William Roth (R-Del.), urging him to include the middle class in his proposal. According to the letter, "[T]he standard Medicare benefit package [should] be designed so that most older people are not required to spend more out of pocket on medicine than they receive in benefits." Roth argued that his plan offers "the best of what Republicans and Democrats have proposed," but White House health care adviser Chris Jennings expressed reservations about out-of-pocket expenses. In addition, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the author of a competing bill, said he remains concerned about Roth's plan to require only one pharmaceutical benefits manager in each state (Fulton, CongressDaily/A.M., 7/18).
DOJ Tobacco Suit Finally Derailed?
Still reeling from the expensive Florida suit, the tobacco industry might get some good news today as the Senate Appropriations Committee votes on a provision that would hamper the Department of Justice's ability to finance litigation against the industry using funds from other federal agencies. Although multiple efforts to stifle the DOJ lawsuit have failed, this measure would force agencies to gain congressional approval before granting money to the Justice Department, effectively reversing a 1994 spending law provision that allows federal agencies seeking DOJ assistance in civil ligation cases to finance the government's defense. According to one opponent, the committee will likely approve the provision, setting the stage for a showdown on the Senate floor. Senate Commerce ranking member Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), author of the 1994 measure, may attempt to defeat the bill in committee or on the floor (CongressDaily, Koffler, 7/17).