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Medicare drug bill stalls

Helen Palmer Apr 18, 2007

Medicare drug bill stalls

Helen Palmer Apr 18, 2007

TESS VIGELAND: Negotiations aren’t any easier when it comes to politics. Today, a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate cheaper drug prices failed in the Senate. Democrats couldn’t muster enough votes to break a Republican filibuster and close debate. But as Helen Palmer reports from the Health Desk at WGBH, that doesn’t mean the bill is history.

HELEN PALMER: When Democrats took control of Congress last year, they vowed to fix Medicare Part D, the senior drug benefit, and sweep away the rule that prevents government from negotiating lower prices.

But today, the Democratic broom hit a partisan wall.

BOB LASZEWSKI: This is about should the marketplace do it better or can Government do it better.

Bob Laszewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates says Republicans argued the bill would have ushered in price controls. Democrats countered the plan would have cut drug costs.

LASZEWSKI: The Republicans could point to the success of the Part D program, but at the same time Democrats could point to the fact that prices, in many cases, are still much higher than they are in Europe or Canada.

Consumer advocates say the drug industry pulled out all the stops to protect those higher prices.

Drew Nannis of the seniors’ group AARP says the pharmaceutical lobby, PhRMA, led the charge with their dollars.

DREW NANNIS: PhRMA has been working against this bill pretty much from the beginning. It’s purchased ads, and as you’ve guessed, pharmaceutical manufacturers have given more than $20 million in campaign contributions just for the last two election cycles.

Senators who sponsored the bill also blames the insurance lobby for today’s defeat. But Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden says he’s undeterred.

RON WYDEN: This is a fight in the days ahead between whether or not we’re going to do everything possible to make sure seniors and taxpayers get a fair shake under the Medicare laws, or are we just going to kind of let the special interests have their way.

Wyden vows this bill will be back. He predicts seniors are going to see their costs under the Part D benefit rise sharply in coming months. Then they’ll be back on the phone to their senators — and he’s sure there’ll be the 60 votes to pass the bill.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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