In Illinois, Senate candidate urges Part D price negotiation

Campaign season normally isn't the time for nuanced positions on healthcare policy. But no one told Alexi Giannoulias. 

The Democrat vying to fill the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President Obama said this week that he wants to allow the government to negotiate drug prices on behalf of the nation's Medicare beneficiaries — a "missed opportunity," he said, in the Democrats' new healthcare law.   

"There's a lot more to be done," Giannoulias told David Gregory Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." 

"I would have loved to have seen a provision there to let the Secretary of Health and Human Services negotiate … drug rates for Medicare the way that the [Veterans Affairs Department] does."

As part of the 2003 law creating Medicare's prescription drug benefit, Republican leaders explicitly prohibited HHS from using the bulk-purchasing power of Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors and taxpayers. 

Several attempts to eliminate the prohibition have failed since Part D took effect in 2006, and the $80 billion deal cut last year between Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the pharmaceutical lobby undermined any real effort to include the change in the healthcare reform bill.

Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.), the Republican vying for Obama's Senate seat, said he wants to repeal the healthcare law and replace it with alternative reforms, including provisions to rein in malpractice suits and allow consumers to buy insurance across state lines.   

Giannoulias was quick to defend the reform bill overall, arguing that the coverage expansion and consumer protections central to the law are long overdue. 

"Morally we shouldn't have 51 million Americans without affordable, basic health care," he said.