House Backs Medicare Drug-Negotiation Plan

In a pointed challenge to President Bush, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted today in support of direct government negotiations with pharmaceutical companies in order to obtain lower drug costs for seniors. The measure passed by a vote of 255-170, with 24 Republicans crossing the aisle to support the measure. However, earlier in the day, White House spokesman Tony Snow signaled the president’s intent to veto the bill should it make it to the Oval Office.

Democrats believe that the new measure makes a marked improvement over the controversial, Republican-supported Medicare bill of 2003, which expressly forbids the government from directly negotiating with drug makers. “This legislation repeals a misguided provision in current law that explicitly prohibits the secretary of Health and Human Services from entering into negotiations with drug companies to lower the cost of prescription drugs for the 43 million beneficiaries of Medicare,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said.

The new bill, supported by every Democrat in the House, is part of the party’s “First 100 Hours” agenda of priorities. It now faces what may be stiff opposition in the Senate. Critics of the new measure contend that it would not result in significant savings and that it may actually reduce the drug choices available for Medicare participants. However, Democrats foresee significant savings that may very well help to close Medicare’s “donut hole,” a coverage gap that forces many patients to have to cover a significant portion of drug costs on their own.

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