Rx DRUG COSTS I: GOP Reaches ‘Shaky’ Rx Reimport Deal
House and Senate GOP negotiators reached a "shaky" agreement yesterday on the "thorny issue" of prescription drug reimportation (Fulton et al., CongressDaily/A.M., 10/5). According to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the agreement would allow pharmacists and wholesalers to purchase U.S. brand name drugs in Canada and other nations that limit the price of pharmaceuticals and then resell them "cheaply" to American consumers. "I think it's a good agreement," Hastert said. Clinton administration officials and Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns, however, that Republicans may have "watered down" the final version of the reimportation plan to "placate" the pharmaceutical industry, which strongly opposes the legislation. They also worry that the bill contains a five-year "sunset" provision that "could undermine its long term effectiveness" and question whether drug labeling and contractual measures in the legislation may "substantially limit" the amount of pharmaceuticals reimported into the United States. In addition, Clinton administration officials, who have "worked closely" with GOP leaders to draft compromise legislation, "complained" that Republicans cut them out of the "last-minute" decisionmaking. "This has been a very disappointing outcome of a process we had high hopes for," White House health care adviser Chris Jennings said, adding, "For whatever reasons, the Republican leadership chose to make this a last-second partisan initiative" (Pianin/Morgan, Washington Post, 10/5).
A Jeffords and Hyde Affair
Trying to counter the doubts raised by Democrats, Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.), the chief sponsor of the Senate reimportation bill that "formed the basis" for the GOP deal, said the compromise remained "faithful to the approach already approved by the Senate and endorsed by the White House." He added, "I feel fully confident the bill we will be approving is going to be 100% safe and is going to be a great benefit to purchasers of pharmaceuticals" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/5). But House Judiciary Committee Chair Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and business leaders also have raised concerns about the legislation, pointing to language that may "violate pharmaceutical patent owners' rights." In a letter Wednesday, Hyde called the measure an "antibusiness, anti-intellectual property effort to force pharmaceutical patent owners to give up their patent rights." Republicans may circulate final drug reimportation language today (CongressDaily/A.M., 10/5).
Trouble in 'Giveback' Land
Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee emerged from a closed meeting yesterday "breathing fire" over a proposed Medicare "giveback" bill, denouncing a five-year Republican plan that would pump $28.1 billion into the program to restore cuts imposed on providers by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, CongressDaily reports (Rovner, CongressDaily, 10/4). Democrats became "enraged" after committee Chair William Roth (R-Del.) told them that the bill would bypass the mark up process and the Senate floor and appear as an amendment to an appropriations measure (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/5). A Senate Finance Committee spokesperson confirmed that the bill would move directly to negotiations, citing a "time crunch" with Congress set to adjourn in the next week (CongressDaily, 10/4). According to Democrats, however, the move only served to "thwart their efforts" to attach a prescription drug plan as an amendment to the bill. "We worked on [the plan] all year. If not now, when?" Sen. Richard Bryan (D-Nev.) asked (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/5). "The process is abominable. It's very disrespectful to the American people," Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) agreed, stating, "It's a breakdown of the whole committee system" (CongressDaily, 10/4). Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) added, "Instead of being government by the people, it's government by four or five people" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/5). Democrats also remained "unhappy" with some of the provisions in the bill, complaining that the legislation provides nearly one-third of the $28.1 billion to HMOs. "This is just total capitulation to special interests," Bryan said. Baucus added, "There's not enough in here for rural areas." However, a committee spokesperson denied the charge that the Democrats had no role in assembling the bill. "Everybody was consulted. Everybody has provisions in this bill," she said (Rovner, CongressDaily, 10/4).