Efforts by congressional Democrats to give the government the authority to negotiate drug prices under Part D of Medicare suffered a serious blow last week when they fell 5 votes short of having the full Senate debate even a watered-down compromise measure.
Given that the Senate bill is more moderate than far stronger legislation passed by the House in January, Tim Vandenberg, an analyst at Washington Analysis, said after the vote that the “odds of getting anything done on the issue this year are pretty much put to bed.”
At the same time, Vandenberg cautioned that the issue “could linger.” He noted that moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine, has another compromise proposal that would allow the government to negotiate prices if Medicare recipients ask them to.
The Senate vote on the issue was 55-42, with 60 votes needed to clear the legislation for floor action. Vandenberg noted that the bill faces an even higher hurdle because Bush administration officials have issued statements saying they oppose both the House and Senate versions, and that the president is likely to veto legislation containing either the Senate or the House proposal. That would require 67 votes in the Senate to override the veto, Vandenberg said, which was clearly unrealistic given last week’s vote.
Health insurers, who offer the program to seniors, are opposed to government negotiation.
Following the vote, Mohit Ghose, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents 85% of the providers of the benefit, said, “For many weeks, we have been reaching out to members of Congress to inform them about the unprecedented savings for beneficiaries and for the federal government through the public/private partnership that is providing millions with much needed prescription drugs.”
He added: “We continue to believe that Medicare beneficiaries are best served by the competitive system that is delivering the drug benefit for millions who previously had no access to prescription drugs. We look forward to working with members of Congress to improve the prescription drug benefit without undermining the successes achieved so far.”
Under the current program, private insurance plans negotiate with drug makers over the price of medicine for their customers. About 22 million seniors and the disabled are enrolled in such plans.