Rx DRUG COSTS: Last-Minute Bickering Before House Vote
As the House prepares to vote today on Republicans' plan to provide Medicare beneficiaries with prescription drug coverage, both Republicans and Democrats are planning some last-minute maneuvers, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. The House Rules Committee was scheduled to meet last night to vote on a rule that would prevent Democrats from presenting their plan to offer a Medicare benefit of $100 billion over five years as a substitute for Republicans' $40 billion plan involving private insurers. Rules Committee members also were expected to address some lawmakers' requests for amendments, including Medicare "givebacks" and allowing patients to bring back prescription drugs from other countries. One possibility the committee reportedly considered was allowing those amendments to be offered as separate bills on suspension, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. At the same time, Republican leaders yesterday were "debating among themselves" about allowing Democrats to offer another bill, which would reach $40 billion over five years and has a later start for the $4,000 cap on out-of-pocket expenses. They also considered limiting Democrats to recommitting the bill to committee with instructions.
Unhappy about being denied the chance to vote on their plan, Democrats have tentatively scheduled a walkout from the House Chamber at 10:30 a.m. today and hinted that more delay tactics may be on the way. "There's lots of things being talked about," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. Democrats are staffing a 24-hour "war room" along with consumer groups to attack the GOP plan by reaching out to the media and senior groups. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said, "For a lot of people, if they don't have the catastrophic coverage, the most severe problem hasn't been addressed." Even some Republicans were unhappy about the process. "This is too important an issue to be voting on a bill that hasn't gone through regular order," Rep. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa) said.
Senate Takes Action
In the meantime, the Senate Tuesday passed by voice vote an amendment to the FY 2001 Labor-HHS spending bill that would require NIH to submit a plan on how to "'require a reasonable rate of return' on drugs originally developed using federal funds." The House passed a similar amendment earlier this month (Rovner, 6/28).
In the days leading to the House vote, Citizens for Better Medicare, the group created by drug manufacturers one year ago, stepped up its efforts to fight the Democrats' drug plan, the New York Times reports. Efforts included "enticing twenty-somethings to call their grandparents and urge them to lobby against the Clinton drug plan." As part of the campaign, the group offered $10 calling cards available on Web sites to be used to call grandparents and "talk about Medicare drug coverage." Because of such large demand, the group now has asked people to call their grandparents "on your own dime." Since last year, the group has spent more than $30 million on television advertising, as well as unknown amounts on radio, print and Internet advertisements. Citizens for Better Medicare, the creators of " Flo," operates under a tax provision that allows it to engage in issue advocacy, but prohibits it from campaigning for or against candidates. Regardless, critics have called the group "little more than a front organization for the drug industry." But Timothy Ryan, the group's executive director, said that the campaign's aim "was not to thwart legislation," but to ensure that any drug plan "would not create a costly new bureaucracy or lead to government price controls on medicine." Ryan added that while the group opposes the Democrats' plan, it is not "fully supportive of the Republican alternative, either" (Broder, 6/28).
USA Today Debates Issue
For more on the prescription drug debate, check out today's USA Today, which features a point-counterpoint between the paper and Horace Deets, executive director of AARP. Visit http://w ww.usatoday.com/news/comment/nceditf2.htm to read the paper's view and http://ww w.usatoday.com/news/comment/ncoppf2.htm for Deets' view (6/28).