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Top US Senate Democrat Says ‘No’ To Government Drug Pricing January 11, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–With a firefight breaking out between Democrats and Republicans over prescription drug pricing for Medicare, one Senate Democratic chairman is heading off on his own.

The House votes Friday on a bill repealing a provision preventing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from interfering in drug price negotiations for Medicare.

Republicans are furiously fighting what they say is tantamount to price control and what Democrats say is the only way to prevent pharmaceutical companies from gouging seniors.

U.S. President George W. Bush jumped into the fray Thursday afternoon, threatening through a statement from his Office of Management and Budget that he would veto the bill if passed by Congress.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., thinks the truth lies somewhere in the middle and he’s going to try to find his own solution.

“Direct price regulation is not the answer and maintaining the status quo is not the answer,” Baucus told reporters outside the Senate chamber Thursday afternoon.

Baucus worked with Republicans to write the 2003 bill that expanded Medicare to include prescription drug benefits.

Other Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., lambasted the proposal for blocking the government from using its substantial weight to negotiate the best prescription drug prices.

A CBO study predicts that the government wouldn’t win any further prescription drug discounts if it were doing the bargaining. Likewise, though, the report concludes that private companies handling the drug benefit aren’t doing any better job than the government would do.

“I don’t believe that that sky is going to fall if the non-interference language is repealed,” Baucus said. “The question is what replaces it.”

For example, Baucus said, the secretary could do a better job of getting out information on drug pricing. Of particular concern are anti-cancer drugs.

“I am going to get the committee together soon and ask them ‘Now what’,” Baucus said.

Baucus also discounted the idea that his approach would be backpedalling on the 2006 campaign promise by Democratic leaders to have the government negotiate Medicare drug prices.

“The whole thrust of that was to lower drug prices and to make sure seniors are not being taken advantage of by the pharmaceutical companies,” he said. “That’s what we are trying to accomplish, that’s our goal.”

The proposal to have the government negotiate prices to achieve that goal was an early, simple one, Baucus said.

“As days, weeks and months go by we are going to get more sophisticated,” Baucus said.

By John Godfrey, Dow Jones Newswires

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