KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Senate Finance Panel Rejects Amendment To Squeeze Drug Makers

"Senators rebuffed an attempt to squeeze more money from the drug industry Thursday after two Democrats warned it would undermine the fragile political coalition pushing a sweeping health care overhaul," The Associated Press reports. "The Senate Finance Committee voted 13-10 to reject an amendment that would have required the industry to rebate $106 billion over 10 years to the government for medications used by low-income Medicare beneficiaries." Three Democrats joined Republicans in defeating the proposal, including Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the committee. "The author of the amendment, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had wanted to use the money to close the coverage gap in the Medicare prescription benefit - long a policy goal for Democrats. But would have been on top of $80 billion in reduced fees the industry already agreed to in a deal with the White House and Finance Chairman Max Baucus. Senators said the White House lobbied against Nelson's amendment" (Alonso-Zaldivar, 9/24). 

The Hill: "Despite Nelson's failure to attach the language to the committee's bill, the argument among Democrats is far from over. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised to support the amendment when the bill reaches the Senate floor, Nelson said. The House's healthcare reform bill includes similar provisions. … Nelson sought to fill the so-called donut hole, a gap in Medicare's Part D drug benefit during which beneficiaries must pay the full cost for their medicines. To pay for it, the legislation would have reestablished annual rebates drug makers used to pay the government based on their sales to Medicaid beneficiaries" (Young, 9/24).

MarketWatch reports that the amendment was defeated, just "as Democrats were buoyed by the appointment of an interim replacement for health-reform advocate Edward Kennedy." Paul Kirk, a lawyer and former Democratic National Committee Chairman, will fill Kennedy's seat until a Jan. 19 special election is held in Massachusetts. The appointment "gives Democrats the 60th vote needed to block Republican filibusters. Citing the debate over health-care and other issues, Obama said in a statement that he is pleased with the naming of Kirk to Kennedy's seat" (Schroeder, 9/24).

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