At Finance Committee, Fireworks Surround Efforts To Add Drug Discount, Eliminate Individual Mandate

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday defeated an amendment that sought to squeeze more money out of pharmaceutical companies to help pay for the costs of changing the health care system. The panel's vote was a victory for President Obama and Finance Chairman Max Baucus.

The New York Times: "The proposal, an amendment by Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, would have required drug makers to provide Medicare with discounts in the form of rebates totaling more than $100 billion over 10 years. Some of the money would have been used to close a gap in Medicare coverage of prescription drugs. In 2007, more than eight million Medicare beneficiaries fell into the gap, known as the doughnut hole."

"Under the June agreement with the White House, drug makers pledged $80 billion over 10 years to help 'reform our troubled health care system.' In the belief that their contribution was capped, drug companies have run advertisements in support of a health care overhaul. The rebates proposed by Mr. Nelson would have more than doubled the amount of money to be given up by the industry" (Pear and Calmes, 9/25).

The Wall Street Journal: "The measure would have allowed Medicare to purchase drugs for low-income seniors at the same price that Medicaid pays for the drugs" (9/24).

The Washington Times: "The amendment failed on a 13-10 vote, with three Democrats — Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Sens. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — joining Republicans in opposing the amendment" (Haberkorn, 9/24).

The Washington Post: "In the high-stakes battle over health care, the White House and the drug lobby make an unusual -- and unusually powerful -- team." They used their muscle to fight back an effort by Democratic senators, who "tried unsuccessfully to override a deal" struck months ago between the industry, the White House and Chairman Baucus. "If the deal fell apart, industry allies warned, the drug lobby could pivot from health-reform cheerleader to committed opponent armed with a $125 million war chest. … It also foreshadowed battles to come: Democrats in both the House and Senate vowed anew to seek larger concessions from an industry that spent $92 million in lobbying in the first half of this year."

"The pharmaceutical fireworks came in an otherwise sluggish third day of committee deliberations on Baucus's bill. Republicans tried but failed to restore proposed cuts in the Medicare program and to remove a requirement that every American carry health insurance" (Connolly, 9/25).

Reuters: "The Democratic-controlled panel defeated on a largely party-line vote a Republican proposal to let individuals opt out of the bill's requirement that everyone have health insurance. The plan would offer subsidies on a sliding scale to help people buy it. Republicans said the issue was a matter of personal freedom and questioned the constitutionality of forcing people to purchase insurance. 'The individual mandate in this bill is un-American. It may even be unconstitutional,' said Republican Senator Jim Bunning, the amendment's sponsor.

"Democrats said the requirement was vital to the success of the overhaul, which aims for a dramatic reduction in the number of uninsured people living in the United States. 'The system won't work if this passes,' (Finance Chairman Sen. Max) Baucus said of the amendment" (Whitesides and Smith, 9/24).

NPR's Talk of The Nation Thursday centered around the national debate on requiring everyone take health insurance or face a penalty (9/24).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.