KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Coburn Opposes Medicare Part B Premiums Freeze, McCain Calls Drug Pact ‘Unsavory’

Health care news is emerging from the Senate besides the Finance Committee bill.

CongressDaily: On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blocked a unanimous consent request for the Senate "to approve a House-passed bill keeping Part B premiums constant at 2009 levels. The House bill, which passed 406-18 on Sept. 24, is needed to freeze monthly Part B insurance premiums, which pay for seniors' physician visits, at $96.40 next year."

The House sought to freeze the premiums because with deflation this year, "there is no Social Security cost-of-living adjustment planned for 2010," meaning that if premiums stay the same, some "seniors would see a net reduction in their Social Security benefits without the fix." But "Coburn railed against the measure as unsustainable in the face of massive entitlement obligations and a raid on future benefits ... The Part B problem affects about 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, or 12 million people, who find themselves in the unusual situation." (Cohn, 10/8).

New Mexico Business Weekly reports that on Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "introduced amendments to lift restrictions on prescription drug imports from Canada and Europe. 'For far too long, powerful lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry have stood in the way of Americans' access to affordable imported drugs,' McCain said. 'Their enormous political campaign contributions made in return for political support of their agenda and their secret unsavory deal with the White House in exchange for their support of the health care reform have further contributed to the American people being prevented from accessing cheaper prescription drugs. Instead, Americans continue to pay 60 percent or higher for the same prescription drugs that are sold in Canada'" (Sunnucks, 10/7).

A second CongressDaily report adds that McCain's amendment "would ease the re-importation of prescription drugs from abroad unless Senate Democratic leaders assure him that he can offer it to the healthcare reform package. In floor remarks, McCain said he was left no alternative after Senate Majority Leader Reid twice did not keep promises to take up the matter" (Sanchez, 10/7).

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