Medicare :: House passes bill on Medicare drug prices

The U.S. House on Friday passed a bill to require the government to negotiate with drug manufacturers to obtain lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.

Representative Christopher S. Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, said, ?This bill has symbolic importance, breaking the grasp of the drug industry on this town.? “It is the beginning of a process to repair the Medicare drug benefit.”

The measure is unlikely to become law in its current form. But some version, focusing on certain types of very expensive drugs, has bipartisan support in the Senate and could eventually be included in a measure to revamp the drug benefit, which a Republican-led Congress created in 2003.

The bill, which fulfills a Democratic campaign promise, says the secretary of health and human services ?shall negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers the prices that may be charged? to Medicare drug plans.

The 2003 law prohibits such negotiations. The drug benefit is delivered by private insurers, subsidized by the government. These companies have negotiated substantial discounts with drug manufacturers. Under the House bill, insurers could seek discounts deeper than those negotiated by the government.