Senate Committee Advances Negotiations on Medicare Rx Prices
The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday will mark up legislation sponsored by committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that would allow the government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies under the Medicare prescription drug benefit, CQ HealthBeat reports (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 4/11).
The House in January passed a bill (HR 4) that would require the HHS secretary to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies under the Medicare prescription drug benefit and report to Congress in six months.
The Senate legislation would lift the ban barring the HHS secretary from negotiating drug prices. Under the bill, congressional agencies such as the Congressional Budget Office would be given access to information about rebates and discounts that drug plans are negotiating with drug manufacturers.
The agencies would use the data to inform Congress on how the drug plans are performing with regard to decreasing costs. The bill also includes a provision that would require the HHS secretary to compile a list of research and studies that compare the effectiveness of drugs and medical devices, which could be used by insurers to decide which drugs to cover (California Healthline, 4/11).
Earlier versions of the Senate bill would have required the HHS secretary to negotiate prices.
The new Senate language "has put Baucus awfully close to getting the 60 votes necessary to beat back an inevitable filibuster attempt" by Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Roll Call reports (Pierce, Roll Call, 4/12).
The bill likely will be considered by the full Senate next week, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (Pear, New York Times, 4/12).
Baucus said, "This legislation will help to highlight places where drug prices may be out of whack, and then let the secretary go to work" (Johnson, CongressDaily, 4/11).
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) -- who previously introduced legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would require the HHS secretary to negotiate prices for certain drugs -- said she was "surprised and disappointed" that Senate Democratic leaders were not trying to win approval for mandatory negotiations. "I would have thought that, since the Democrats are now in control, they would have tried to do more," Snowe said (New York Times, 4/12).
Wyden said, "It's important that we prevail" in passing the Baucus bill, adding, "That's the first step."
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said that senators will bring amendments to the floor requiring price negotiations (Schor, The Hill, 4/11).
Grassley said, "I'm open to ideas to make Medicare's prescription drug benefit work better for Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers. But a government takeover of Medicare plans' successful negotiations with drug companies is not the answer" (CongressDaily, 4/11).
Grassley added that a recent CBO report finding that Baucus' legislation would have a negligible effect on federal spending "blows another hole in all the political pandering that's going on with this issue" (CQ HealthBeat, 4/11).