MEDICARE RX: House Committee Navigates Crowded Field
Members of the House Commerce health and environment subcommittee agreed Monday that "seniors should not have to cut essential living expenses to pay for needed prescription drugs," sparking a debate over which of the half-dozen plans brought up for consideration yesterday would best accomplish that goal. Noting in a "cooperative tone" that "it is important that we don't tear each other's proposal asunder," subcommittee Chair Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) lobbied for his bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Ernest Fletcher (R-KY) and Collin Peterson (D-MN), which would offer states federal matching funds to create their own prescription drug programs for seniors. Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) backed a similar demonstration project that would give block grants to three states with such programs already set up. Others favored government-mandated price adjustments, with Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME) introducing a bill that would allow "pharmacies and drug distributors to pay pharmaceutical companies the 'best price' rate that the industry usually charges for Medicaid." Allen said, "The idea is simple. Buy in bulk and save money." He added that market forces would then persuade pharmacies to "pass the savings on to seniors." Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) favored "good old-fashioned American competitiveness" in his bill, which would allow the government to issue licenses to generic manufacturers to produce versions of brand-name drugs still under patent protection. The measure would apply to those drugs considered to provide a substantial health benefit but with price tags deemed to be "exorbitantly costly." Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR) advocated even more competition, saying that "domestic drug distributors should be allowed to reimport drugs made in the United States" for resale. But Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) rejected all the plans, "saying that any proposal would effectively require cost controls to work and would be too complex." Instead, he called for a universal drug benefit, asserting, "[We should] include everyone we can and phase people in (Wegner, Congress Daily/A.M., 10/5).
Forbes Has a Drug Plan Too
Meanwhile, in reaction to recent reports that some New England seniors are trekking across the border to Canada to fill their prescriptions at lower costs, Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes vowed to a New Hampshire audience Monday that "if elected, he promised a drug support system that would eliminate them to travel to Quebec for medicines." Forbes said he was "discouraged" by the news and was best positioned to help residents because he is "not beholden to the establishment, special interests [or] lobbyists" ( AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/4).