Requiring the federal government to negotiate with drug companies for the prices of drugs covered under Medicare (H.R. 4)/Motion to recommit with instructions to add language that ensures that beneficiaries will not be restricted in their access to prescription drugs and that the negotiations will not result in the price increase of prescription drugs for any group
house Roll Call 22 Jan 12, 2007
This vote was on a Republican amendment to a bill requiring the federal government to negotiate with drug companies for the prices of drugs covered under Medicare. Republicans asserted that, as drafted, the bill would have the effect of restricting senior citizen's drug choices, limiting the number of retail outlets where they could have their prescriptions filled and possibly result in a price increase for veterans' prescription drugs. Their amendment aimed to prevent those occurrences.
Democrats said the Republican claims were ludicrous.
The underlying legislation that the Republicans wanted to attach this amendment to requires the federal government to leverage its buying power to command lower prices from prescription drug manufacturers. The bill prohibits the Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary from establishing a restrictive list of covered drugs, thereby ensuring that he or she has the necessary bargaining power to freeze a particular drug out of the program if a favorable price cannot be negotiated. The measure would represent the first changes to the Medicare drug law enacted in 2003 and the fulfillment of a campaign promise by Democrats to amend the 2003 law to include price leverages that they believe should have been in the original legislation. President Bush has promised to veto the bill.
The power of the HHS secretary to freeze out certain drugs in order to better negotiate with the drug companies for lower prices is the provision that most concerned Republicans. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said that some very expensive drugs that serve small segments of the population, like HIV drugs, could be excluded from the prescription drug benefit under this bill.
Barton also said in order to achieve cost savings the HHS secretary may have to require that seniors get their drugs via mail order. He said that the motion to recommit would simply ensure that seniors could still get their drugs at their local pharmacies.
"I don't believe, based on the evidence, that the Democrats' plan can reduce prescription drug prices without reducing seniors' prescription drug choices, or without devastating local pharmacies, or without raising drug prices for our veterans," said Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.).
Furthermore, McCrery said, the Republican motion "would ensure that requiring the HHS Secretary to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices would not directly result in increasing drug prices for veterans, because as we have seen in the past, when the government gets involved in setting prices in other areas, prices to veterans go up."
Democrats said during floor debate that Republicans were making up problems.
Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said his wife, who is a pharmacist, "had had to turn her television set off because she has heard so many untruths and misinformation coming from the Republican side of the aisle during this debate here today."
"But let me be clear about this: A 'yes' vote for the motion to recommit is a vote for the big drug manufacturers, and a 'no' vote on the motion to recommit is a vote for America's seniors," Ross continued, adding that the Democrats were "trying to correct a wrong that occurred back in 2003."
Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.), said that as the only registered pharmacist in Congress, "I can tell you one thing for certain, my distinguished colleagues across the aisle, while well meaning, absolutely don't know turnip greens from butter beans about what they are talking about."
The procedural mechanism Republicans attempted to amend the bill is known as a motion to recommit with instructions. A motion to recommit is a move to send the resolution back to committee for revision and represents the minority's last chance to make substantive changes to a measure before a final up-or-down vote.
In the end, only one Democrat crossed party lines to join with Republicans to vote for the motion to recommit. The support among Republicans was unanimous. The final vote was 196-229, and the motion to recommit failed. Thus, the House rejected a Republican effort to add language to a bill requiring the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of America's seniors for drug prices to ensure that the legislation didn't negatively affect the availability or price of pharmaceuticals.
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