Dorgan will offer amendment on importing prescription drugs

The White House agreement with the pharmaceutical industry, which is reflected in the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill, is one of the most shameful episodes of the health care reform process. Presidential candidate Barack Obama had promised to "put an end to the game-playing" in Washington, citing in one television ad the deal the pharmaceutical industry wrote into the Medicare prescription drug legislation. Yet in order to bring big Pharma on board with health care reform, the White House "stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion."

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota says no deal, according to Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post:

A Senate Democratic leader is hoping to blow up the deal reached between the White House, drug makers and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), by introducing an amendment on the floor to allow prescription drugs to be re-imported from Canada.

It’s one of the simplest ways to reduce health care costs but was ruled out by the agreement, which limits Big Pharma’s contribution to health care reform to $80 billion over ten years.

North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, a member of Democratic leadership, isn’t a party to that bargain. “Senator Dorgan intends to offer an amendment to the health reform bill and his expectation is that it will be one of the first amendments considered,” his spokesman Justin Kitsch told HuffPost in an e-mail. “Prescription drug importation is an immediate way to put downward pressure on health care costs. It has bipartisan support, and has been endorsed by groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses and AARP.” […]

Jim Manley, senior communications adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that he sees no reason the amendment won’t get a floor vote.

If an amendment on reimporting drugs from Canada gets to the Senate floor, it is hard to see how it fails to pass. Grim notes that a separate bill to allow re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada “has 30 cosponsors, several Republicans among them.” I hope the White House doesn’t start twisting arms to keep that amendment off the Senate floor.

Giving the government the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices would bring costs down even more. Obama should support that reform, since he says he won’t let the health care bill add a dime to the deficit. But apparently, not taking that step was part of the White House deal with drug companies.

Speaking of backroom deals, Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill, citing “senior Democratic aides,” that Reid will “not include legislation repealing antitrust exemptions for the health insurance industry in the healthcare package he will bring to the Senate floor.”

So far the powerful insurance industry has held back waging a full-out battle against Democratic health reform proposals because companies stand to gain tens of millions of new customers. But adding language that would open health insurance companies to prosecution by the Justice Department would provoke a strong counterattack from the industry.

Hey, why take something valuable away from the insurance industry (the ability to fix prices) just because we’re about to hand them a “bonanza” (individual mandate to buy their products)? They might run ads against us.

It is time to replace Reid as Senate majority leader. Since Senate Democrats are unlikely to take that step, I agree with Chris Bowers that Reid losing re-election next year wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Getting a more effective majority leader, like Dick Durbin of Illinois or Chuck Schumer of New York, would make up for losing Reid’s Senate seat.

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