GOP: Bush Would Veto Medicare Reforms

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 11, 2007; 8:49 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush vowed Thursday to veto Democratic-drafted legislation requiring the government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices under Medicare.

The House is to debate and vote Friday on the legislation, which is one of a handful of priority items for Democrats who gained control of Congress in last fall's elections.

"Government interference impedes competition, limits access to lifesaving drugs, reduces convenience for beneficiaries and ultimately increases costs to taxpayers, beneficiaries and all American citizens alike," the administration said in a written statement.

It said that competition already "is reducing prices to seniors, providing a wide range of choices and leading to a more productive environment for the development of new drugs."

Democrats shot back quickly.

"Evidently, the president is more concerned with protecting pharmaceutical company profits than American seniors," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., a member of the House Democratic leadership.

Bush had already threatened to veto another of the top six bills Democrats are pushing across the House floor in the first two weeks of the new Congress. That measure, approved Thursday, would expand the extent to which federal funds could be used for embryonic stem cell research.

Several Democrats campaigned last fall as critics of the one-year-old program that offers prescription drug coverage under Medicare, saying it tilted too heavily toward profits for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

Currently, private drug plans negotiate how much they'll pay for the medicine their customers take. The legislation would order the Secretary of Health and Human Services to step in.

"It is clear Medicare can do better and we are insisting that they do so," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the bill's author.

Democrats have said they would use the savings produced by the negotiations to reduce a coverage gap that is common in many plans.

But they suffered a significant setback on the issue on Wednesday when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the legislation was unlikely to result in lower prices.

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