Rx DRUG COSTS: GOP Makes Mad Dash to Pass Plan This Month
Hoping to push through a Medicare prescription drug benefit by late June, Republican House members will convene tomorrow for two days of Ways and Means hearings on the GOP proposal, USA Today reports. Leaders hope the committee will approve a measure by Friday so the full House can act sometime next week (Ullmann, 6/12). The bill also must win approval from the Commerce Committee before advancing to the floor. Republicans announced this weekend that they will attach the drug benefit plan to another proposal to increase Medicare payments to HMOs. GOP leaders say they want to stem the tide of HMO withdrawals and may offer $4 billion over five years to raise reimbursements, especially in rural areas. Additionally, the bill would allow HMOs to negotiate with the government for more money, provided they could prove their costs justify increased payments. Many Democrats have "fierce" objections to the plan. Calling the proposed payment increases "unjustified," Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said many HMOs already are overpaid (Pear, New York Times, 6/12). As for the drug benefit plan, GOP leaders hit a stumbling block when conservative members "balked" at a provision that would offer fallback Medicare coverage for seniors unable to obtain private insurance. Although drafters of the bill had planned to unveil details last week, the disagreement forced them to regroup over the weekend (USA Today, 6/12). Republicans are eager to pass the measure to deflect Democratic accusations that Congress has "done nothing on the issue." Republican pollster Glen Bolger said, "It's very important that Republicans stick together and pass a bill. If they don't ... they'll pay a price at the ballot box" (New York Times, 6/12).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.