March 15, 2006

Snowe-Wyden Measure to Allow HHS Secretary to Negotiate for Prescription Drugs Passes Major Hurdle

Budget resolution now includes provision that clears wayfor Senators to pass legislation first introduced last year

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) today won approval of language in the Senate's FY2007 budget resolution that is a critical step in strengthening the drug coverage offered to seniors under the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit. The amendment, adopted today by a vote of 54-44, and co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), is based on the Medicare Enhancement for Needed Drugs (MEND) legislation Wyden and Snowe introduced last year. It clears the way for Snowe and Wyden to pass their legislation to give the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the specific authority to negotiate lower prices for drug purchases through Medicare. Under the Senate Budget rules, Wyden and Snowe would have to get a super-majority vote in order pass their MEND legislation; with the adoption of their amendment today, a simple majority vote will now be enough to grant the bargaining authority to the HHS Secretary. "The rapidly escalating price of prescription drugs threatens to undermine the very drug benefit Congress passed to deliver real savings to seniors," said Snowe. "Our amendment manages costs in a commonsense way - harnessing the buying power of millions of seniors to give them a better value for their health care dollar. The fact is that negotiation will drive down costs, and I am pleased that the Senate recognized it has the power to fix this problem now." "It's common sense and just good business practice to use the collective purchasing power of some 40 million Medicare beneficiaries to get the best prices for the medicines they need," said Wyden. "This provision is a sensible cost-containment measure that will help improve the flawed Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors and U.S. taxpayers alike. America's seniors deserve reasonable prices for their prescription drugs and this bipartisan amendment works to ensure just that." The Snowe-Wyden amendment directs the savings created by reducing the cost of the prescription drug benefit to Medicare if Congress passes a bill that lifts the "non-interference" language (the ban in the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act on negotiations) to be used for deficit reduction or to improve the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. The amendment also includes language stating that under the provision, there can be no price-setting or uniform formularies.