Dems look to drug industry for Medicare savings

Congressional Democrats offered their own plan for Medicare savings on Thursday — but it’s a proposal that has routinely failed to gain traction, even in the healthcare reform law.

Democrats in the House and Senate introduced bills to increase the rebates paid by prescription drug makers. State Medicaid programs negotiate rebates with pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of prescription drugs. But the companies do not pay rebates for patients who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid —low-income seniors who are among the most expensive patients in the U.S.

Democrats have long wanted to extend the rebates to so-called “dual-eligible” beneficiaries and reintroduced that proposal Thursday.

Republicans have been pressing Democrats to release a proposal for Medicare savings after facing a near-constant barrage of criticism — and bad polling — over the House GOP’s plan to convert Medicare into a sort of voucher system.

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Republican leaders in the both chambers wrote to President Obama on Tuesday, demanding that he offer an alternative to the Republican plan that his party has spent weeks maligning.

Extending drug rebates to dual-eligible beneficiaries would save money without cutting into Medicare or Medicaid benefits, lawmakers said.

“We face a stark choice,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “The Republicans have proposed eliminating basic Medicare and Medicaid guarantees.  But Democrats have better ideas.  This bill saves Medicare more than $100 billion by eliminating drug manufacturer windfalls instead of hurting seniors.”

Waxman pursued the same policy as a potential cost-saver in the healthcare reform bill. He faced staunch opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, which had struck a vague and controversial deal with Senate Democrats and the White House.

Waxman, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, reintroduced the measure along with the top Democrats on the Ways and Means and Education and Workforce committees, as well their respective subcommittees.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) is the lead sponsor in the Senate.