December 04, 2006

Wyden Introduces Budget Amendment to Allow HHS SecretaryTo Negotiate for Prescription Drugs

Amendment Mirrors Legislation Introduced Earlier This Year

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today introduced an amendment to the Budget Reconciliation Act that would strengthen the drug coverage offered to seniors under the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit. The amendment, offered with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), is based on the Medicare Enhancement for Needed Drugs (MEND) legislation Wyden and Snowe introduced earlier this year, and would directly address the crisis of skyrocketing drug costs by giving 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.

"Failure to enact sensible cost-containment measures now will put the Medicare prescription drug benefit in jeopardy, as costs spiral for seniors and taxpayers alike," said Wyden. "Every American senior should have bargaining power in the marketplace to get reasonable prices for their prescription drugs, and our bipartisan amendment works to ensure that for every Medicare recipient. Congress should pass this sensible amendment to contain costs for all taxpayers and help this benefit deliver on its promise to seniors."

"If prescription drug prices are allowed to increase unchecked, the very drug benefit the Congress passed to provide seniors with relief could become threatened," said Snowe. "That's why Senator Wyden and I are introducing this amendment today that mirrors our legislation, the Medicare Enhancement for Needed Drugs (MEND) Act, to manage costs, and assure seniors that they will receive better value for their health care dollar. We take a common-sense and fiscally-responsible approach in this amendment by granting the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to negotiate for lower-cost medications. With costs soaring, we must employ negotiation to drive down costs. We cannot wait until 2006 when the Medicare prescription drug benefit comes into affect. We must address it now."

The Wyden-Snowe amendment permits savings to reduce 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) and requires that the HHS Secretary negotiate with drug companies in at least two instances: (1) for fall back plans; and (2) if a private drug plan asks for help in negotiations.

Today Senators Wyden and Snowe received a letter from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security
and Medicare endorsing their MEND amendment.