FDAnews Drug Daily Bulletin


March 23, 2006

House Democrats' effort to clear the way for HHS to directly negotiate Medicare drug prices will likely fail as the House Rules Committee seems poised to block such a proposal, committee staffers say.

House members are contemplating an effort to get language into the budget resolution giving the federal government the ability to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers for lower Medicare costs. This effort comes on the heels of a victory in the Senate for direct negotiation.

If lawmakers are successful in adding this language to the federal budget, it will lower the procedural bar for such a change to become law. Under parliamentary procedure, if an amendment is not in the budget it can be stopped by a point of order. It takes a 60-vote super majority to overcome a point of order. Defeating a point of order "has been a barrier in the past" for controversial bills, said Jill Greenberg, spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

If the language is included in the budget, only 51 votes will be required. Similar legislation introduced by Wyden and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) received 50 votes last March, falling one vote short for passage.

House proponents may attempt to add to the budget resolution a bill, H.R. 752, which would remove the Medicare Rx Law's "noninterference" language - the provision that currently prohibits direct negotiations. Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.), sponsor of H.R. 752, and other lawmakers have attempted to add this language to previous legislation, including a recent emergency supplemental funding bill. The congressman is open to any opportunity to pass this legislation, said Berry spokeswoman Lillian Pace.

But this effort will likely fail because of Republican opposition within the Rules Committee, a minority staffer on that committee said. The committee can prevent an amendment from being added to the budget by arguing that a topic is nongermane, and is likely to do so here, the source added.

Republicans oppose inserting direct negotiation language because it would alter the Medicare Rx Law, the source said. Republicans and industry opponents argue government negotiation would result in federal price controls, limiting the ability of market forces to dictate costs. "By repealing the noninterference clause of the Medicare Act, the Senate is taking a dangerous step toward adopting price controls on prescription medicines," said Ken Johnson, PhRMA's senior vice president.

With a split of nine Republicans to four Democrats, proponents do not have the votes to ensure the direct negotiation language is ruled germane. This is "not the issue [Republicans] want to talk about. Period," the source said, adding "I just don't see them allowing that on the floor." (http://www.fdanews.com/did)