Dems still struggle with cost after drug company deal

Democrats in the House and Senate are still grappling with how to craft healthcare reform legislation that will increase coverage for Americans and not bust Congress’s budget.
 
An $80 billion agreement with the drug lobby that will lower some costs gives Democrats a shot in the arm after a tough week, but several senators on Sunday indicated the way forward remains a challenge.
 
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“It's not easy to do this, but we're working at it,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”
 
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Sunday that “there's a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus.”
 
“To be candid with you, I don’t think [the president] has the votes right now,” Feinstein said on CNN’s “State of the Union with John King.”
 
The Congressional Budget Office last week delivered unhappy numbers on the healthcare plan the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is marking up. CBO projected that the plan would add $1 trillion to the deficit but only lower the number of people without insurance by 15 million.
 
Dodd, who is shepherding Senate legislation in the absence of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), acknowledged that the CBO scores were unacceptable to get legislation passed.
 
“We've got to obviously have better numbers than the ones we've seen,” Dodd said. “And we need to cover a lot more people than we're seeing. That's what we've been working on all weekend, in fact. And we'll work on it again this week.”
 
The HELP committee will launch its second consecutive week of marking up legislation this week. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Bacus (D-Mont.) may also provide a draft of his bill this week; he put it off last week for more discussions with Republicans.
 
The delay on Finance strongly suggests that a markup might have to wait until after the Fourth of July recess. That wouldn’t give the Senate a whole lot of time before July 31 to combine the two committees’ bills and set aside ample time for floor debate.
 
In the House, hearings will take place in three committees this week. Markups and a floor vote will follow in July, if all goes on plan.
 
All of this suggests it will be a challenge to meet a July 31 deadline for passing House and Senate bills and Obama’s deadline of Oct. 15 for a signing ceremony, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week said it’s all just part of the process.
 
“What you're calling snags, we call the legislative process,” Pelosi said.
 
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Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said Sunday that last week’s CBO scores were “a death blow” to the public insurance option supported by Obama.
 
“The finance committee has abandoned that,” Graham said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We do need to deal with inflation in healthcare, private and public inflation, but we're not going to go down to the government-owning-healthcare road in America and I think that's the story of this week. There's been a bipartisan rejection of that.”
 
The deal between Democrats and the drug industry would lower costs for people on Medicare, but it does nothing to cover the estimated 47 million Americans who are uninsured. Covering those costs remains the biggest challenge to completing a healthcare reform bill.
 
The deal instead closes the so-called “doughnut hole” of coverage in the Medicare prescription drug benefit that then-President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans muscled through Congress in 2003.
 
The doughnut hole is the area that falls between the less than $2,700 and the more than $5,100 Medicare will pay for seniors' prescription drugs. Anything in between, seniors pay themselves.
 
 
Jeffrey Young contributed to this article.

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