Canton Repository

January 12, 2007

House could lift ban on drug negotiations


By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON Rep. Zack Space and other area lawmakers, with the possible exception of Rep. Ralph Regula, plan to support a bill requiring the government to negotiate Medicare prescription-drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

But even if the bill, scheduled to go before the House today, is approved, it faces opposition from a top Senate Democrat and a veto threat from President Bush.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is in charge of crafting Medicare legislation in the Senate, said Thursday he prefers to allow the government to negotiate prices but not require it.

Democrats Space of Dover, Tim Ryan of Niles, Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville and Betty Sutton of Copley are among more than 190 co-sponsors and supporters of the House bill.

Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, has not said how he will vote. House Republican leaders warned Thursday that the bill would lead to fewer choices of drugs in the Medicare program.

The House plan would repeal a prohibition on the federal government negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers that supply drugs for the Medicare prescription program.

Democrats running for Congress in the fall made government negotiation a key issue. They charged that Republicans prohibited negotiation as a favor to the drug industry. They also claimed government bargaining would save taxdollars and allow benefits to expand.

Their position took a hit this week when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the legislation would have a “negligible” effect on federal spending.

The budget office said competing private plans have a stronger incentive than the government to hold down prices.

Space said even if the legislation does not reduce costs, “it’s certainly not going to have any impact where it would increase drug prices.”

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “I’m optimistic that it will result in lower prices.”