By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Senate Republicans blocked legislation yesterday that would have allowed the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices, denying Democrats a victory on their 2006 election vow to lower prescription costs for senior citizens.
"We'll have plenty of additional chances," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a supporter of the bill. "This is not the end of the debate." Democrats needed a 60-vote majority to start debate on the measure, but lost 55 to 42.
Democratic leaders had low expectations for victory. For one, they faced formidable opposition from the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, two of the most powerful lobbying forces on Capitol Hill. But the benefit also has gained wide popularity, costing consumers and the government far less than initially projected.
Republicans in particular who had been skeptical about the benefit now acknowledge its success and are reluctant to tamper with it. Currently, more than 22 million seniors and disabled people receive drug coverage under Medicare.
The Senate legislation would have allowed the government to directly negotiate with drug companies to secure lower prices for medications. But an independent Congressional Budget Office analysis found that the proposal would not result in cheaper drugs unless Congress modified the program, possibly restricting access and choice for beneficiaries.