Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Health Care Reform War Opens

Democrats fired the opening shot of the Health Care Reform War in January with the introduction of a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. Introduced in both the House and Senate, the Medicare Prescription Drug Savings and Choice Act of 2009 (H. R. 684) negates provisions of the Bush administration’s Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 that prevented such negotiations.

If the bill becomes law, Medicare will have the same power to negotiate as the Veterans Administration. That organization is able to buy pharmaceuticals for little over half what the Medicare D insurers pay. Consequently it is expected that major savings will accrue to both taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries, perhaps as much as $40 billion annually.

Very likely, as with the stimulus package legislation just enacted, the passage of this legislation will shape up as a partisan battle. Our Senator Begich surely will vote for it, but the Republicans in Congress probably will stand almost unanimously against passage in order to protect pharmaceutical and insurance industry profits. Alaskans should watch how Senator Murkowski and Representative Young vote on this issue. It is an opportunity for them to display their true colors; are they on the side of the taxpaying public, or are they on the side of the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical industries? There is no in-between on this one.

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