HEALTH CARE: Will an Attempt Be Made to Contain Costs?

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Democrats said they intend to use their new power to fight soaring health-care costs by taking on drug companies and health insurers.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), the presumptive chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Democrats would try to close a gap in which Medicare beneficiaries must cover their drug expenses and push the government to negotiate with drugmakers for lower prices. He also vowed to remedy what he called the "large overpayment of insurance companies."

Dingell also said he would look into whether generic drugs were being kept off the market by deals among manufacturers and how drug companies were "creating new uses of questionable value" for old drugs nearing the end of patent protection. And he said Congress needed to scrutinize the Food and Drug Administration's licensing process. He took special aim at the dietary-supplement industry. "People are being killed" because of lax oversight, he said.

Comments like those from top Democrats helped push down shares of drug companies and insurance providers. Pfizer Inc. fell 1.6 percent yesterday, to $26.62 a share; Medco Health Solutions Inc., the biggest U.S. drug-benefits manager, dropped 4.2 percent, to $49.82. Humana Inc., the second-largest provider of Medicare drug coverage, tumbled 5.9 percent, to $55.19.

-- Steven Mufson

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