Obama's pharma deal may not suffice

A man walks by a sign at a Merck plant

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: You start any serious policy discussion in Washington knowing you'll have to give a little to get a little. And quite frequently, giving a little to a side of the debate that's not all that popular. Back in June, as health care was just clawing its way into the headlines, the White House announced a deal with the pharmaceutical industry. It's designed to cut prescription drug costs for seniors by $80 billion over the next 10 years. At the time the president called it a significant breakthrough on the road to health-care reform. But as Tamara Keith reminds us from Washington, the devil's always in the details.


TAMARA KEITH: As part of the deal, the pharmaceutical industry agreed to help seniors by giving them discounts on drugs not covered by Medicare. There would be savings to the government too, all adding up to $80 billion. What's creating a stir now is that the White House apparently agreed to protect the industry from congressional efforts to extract more savings.

MELANIE SLOAN: Really someone would be under a delusion to think that PhRMA was giving up $80 billion out of the goodness of its collective heart.

Melanie Sloan is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She says this is how deals are done.

SLOAN: Obviously the White House has been talking to not just PhRMA but everybody across the board in health care. The insurers, the doctors, the unions. There's no one who hasn't been included, and everybody is going to have to give something for there to be any kind of deal in the end.

The Obama administration got something out of the deal, too, says Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution. It got buy-in from a big player.

HENRY AARON: The drug industry was on their side of the table, the administration's side of the table on health reform and that was a very important political advance in the administration's effort.

But the Obama administration isn't the only one at the table. Some members of congress and interest groups like the AARP don't think the pharmaceutical industry's $80 billion is enough. They want the government to be able to negotiate drug prices and import cheaper medications from Canada.

In Washington, I'm Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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