If Congress passes a bill requiring the federal government to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices directly with manufacturers, President Bush will veto the bill, the Bush administration said Thursday.

Members of the House are preparing to vote today on H.R. 4, the Medicare prescription drug price negotiation bill.

The bill is part of the new Democratic majority’s “100 hours” package.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the bill Jan. 5 with help from 196 co-sponsors.

The bill appears to have strong support in the House, but support in the Senate appears to be weaker.

The Bush administration interprets the bill as “not only repealing the prohibition against the federal government interfering in negotiations between Part D plans, pharmacies, and drug companies for lower Part D drug prices,” but as requiring that the federal government negotiate directly with drug companies, administration officials say.

Both the Congressional Budget Office and actuaries at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate that H.R. 4 “would have negligible or no effect on federal spending and provide no substantial savings to the government or Medicare beneficiaries,” administration officials say.

“Government interference impedes competition, limits access to life-saving drugs, reduces convenience for beneficiaries, and ultimately increases costs to taxpayers, beneficiaries, and all American citizens alike,” officials say.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, which represents about 85% of the insurers that participate in the Part D program, announced that its members oppose H.R. 4 in a statement issued at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Medicare prescription drug negotiations.

“We do not support such legislation because the Part D program has exceeded expectations, is working for seniors, and previous efforts to impose price controls have had unintended consequences,” AHIP says in the statement.