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Archive for Sunday, June 21, 2009

Drug industry, lawmakers make deal on health reform

June 21, 2009

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— The pharmaceutical industry agreed Saturday to spend $80 billion over the next decade improving drug benefits for seniors on Medicare and defraying the cost of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation, capping secretive negotiations involving key lawmakers and the White House.

“This new coverage means affordable prices on prescription drugs when Medicare benefits don’t cover the cost of prescriptions,” Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement announcing the accord.

The deal marked a major triumph for Baucus as well as the administration. Obama praised the deal.

“The agreement by pharmaceutical companies to contribute to the health reform effort comes on the heels of the landmark pledge many health industry leaders made to me last month, when they offered to do their part to reduce health spending

$2 trillion over the next decade,” Obama said. “We are at a turning point in America’s journey toward health care reform.”

Baucus, a Montana Democrat, has been negotiating with numerous industry groups for weeks as he tries to draft legislation that meets Obama’s goal of vastly expanding health coverage, has bipartisan support and does not add to the deficit.

Baucus’ announcement said drug companies would pay half of the cost of brand-name drugs for seniors in the so-called doughnut hole — a gap in coverage that is a feature of many of the plans providing prescription coverage under Medicare. Other officials said wealthier Medicare beneficiaries would not receive the same break, but there was no mention of that in the statement.

In addition, the entire cost of the drug would count toward a patient’s out-of-pocket costs, meaning their insurance coverage would cover more of their expenses than otherwise.

“The existence of this gap in coverage has been a continuing injustice that has placed a great burden on many seniors,” Obama said. “This deal will provide significant relief from that burden for millions of American seniors.

“Key sectors of the health care industry acknowledge what American families and businesses already know — that the status quo is no longer sustainable,” the president said.

Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said, “Millions of uninsured and financially struggling Americans are depending on us to accomplish comprehensive health care reform this year. Today, America’s pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies are signaling their strong support for these critically important efforts.”

While none of the changes in the prescription drug program would directly lower government costs, several officials also said the industry agreed to measures that would give the Treasury more money under federal health programs. In particular, officials said drug companies would likely wind up paying higher rebates for certain drugs under Medicaid, the program that provides health care for the poor.

Those funds would be used to help pay for legislation expanding health insurance for millions who now lack it.

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