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House Passes Bill Forcing Medicare to Negotiate Drug Prices

The House passed legislation Friday to force the government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare patients, but President Bush is expected to veto the measure. Two Medicare experts discuss the bill and the government's role in bringing down drug costs.

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    The Medicare prescription drug program signed into law in 2003 includes a provision barring the federal government from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices.

    During congressional debate on that measure, House Democrats railed against that restriction, but they fell one vote short of defeating the bill.


    The bill is passed without objection, and the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.


    Today, California Democrat Anna Eshoo said the American public, too, realized that the Republicans were wrong.

    REP. ANNA ESHOO (D), California: They saw through it, and we are here today to correct that provision.


    Now in control of Congress, Democrats have made rewriting the drug negotiation language a top legislative priority. Their bill would require the secretary of health and human services to negotiate with drug companies on behalf of the 23 million beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare drug plans.

    REP. CLIFF STEARNS (R), Florida: Why would you want to change something that's working so fabulously?


    But like three years ago, Republicans adamantly opposed the idea. They argued the prescription drug program Republicans pushed through has lowered costs and that it now enjoys the support of most of the nation's seniors.

    Texas' Joe Barton helped draft the original bill, which provided seniors with $30 billion in drug coverage last year.

    REP. JOE BARTON (R), Texas: It is working. As they say in many parts of our country, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


    And President Bush agrees. In fact, he's threatened to veto the Democrats' bill if it ever gets to his desk.

    Republicans long have maintained that drug prices should be negotiated in the competitive marketplace, not by the government. Mike Conaway of Texas.

    REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R), Texas: For my money, I will trust the private enterprise employee who works for that prescription drug plan, who is negotiating with the drug companies to get the lowest price, in order to be able to lower premiums to the Medicare beneficiary that is going to be paying those premiums.


    But Democrats pointed out that the Department of Veterans Affairs consistently negotiates lower drug prices than Medicare for its 4 million members. And California's Henry Waxman argued the free market approach clearly has not worked.

    REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), California: There's no market there, but it's not working. People can go to Canada right now and get a lower price for their drugs than they can in the Medicare drug plan as it exists today. People can go to Costco and get a better price. They can search around and get a better price, but when government negotiates, we get the best price.


    In today's vote on the drug negotiation ban, Democrats won with the support of two dozen Republicans, but still by less than the two- thirds majority required to override a presidential veto.

    The measure now goes to the Senate where support for overturning the restriction on government-negotiated drug prices is uncertain.