Key Dems break with White House on Medicare change

A number of powerful Senate Democrats broke with the Obama administration Friday by opposing proposed changes to Medicare's prescription drug program.

Led by newly installed Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Senate confirms No. 2 spot at HHS, days after Price resigns Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax CEO faces outraged lawmakers | Dem presses voting machine makers on cyber defense | Yahoo says 3 billion accounts affected by 2013 breach MORE (D-Ore.), all but four Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee criticized a suggested overhaul that would enlarge the government's role in Part D.

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The letter, also signed by Finance Republicans, described the strength of the current program and urged Medicare officials to abandon their plans to change it.

"We are perplexed as to why [you] would propose to fundamentally restructure Part D by requiring immediate, large-scale changes to the program," the lawmakers wrote.

"Many of the proposed changes are untested and unstudied and could result in significant loss of beneficiary choice, access and consumer protections."

The criticism represents a major blow to the overhaul initiative, which had already been panned by Republicans as a negative for Part D.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently floated rules that would allow the agency to participate in negotiations between insurance companies and pharmacies in the program for the first time.

The regulations would also open plans' preferred networks to a wider range of pharmacies, limit plan bids within a region and remove "protected class" designations for certain types of drugs.

Though each involves its own fight, the proposals taken together have also triggered a serious backlash.

The Chamber of Commerce recently joined top insurers, drug companies, disease advocates and pharmacy chains to voice its opposition.

"The rule would significantly reduce beneficiaries' choice of plans and medicines and lead to disruptions in care. ... It would fundamentally transform the market-based competitive models that have made the Part D program highly successful," the groups wrote to regulators.

Federal health officials counter that a revised system would save money, hold plans and providers to account and enhance consumer choice within Part D.

The CMS hopes to finalize its proposal to take effect for the 2015 contract year, a very slim timetable for rule-making.

The four Finance Democrats who did not sign Friday's letter were: Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (N.Y.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellUse tax reform to strengthen what’s working: The low-income housing tax credit Senate energy bill is misguided gift to Trump’s dirty fossil fuel agenda Help states solve their housing problems with the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act MORE (Wash.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax CEO faces outraged lawmakers | Dem presses voting machine makers on cyber defense | Yahoo says 3 billion accounts affected by 2013 breach Key Dem: Did Kushner use private emails to talk with foreign governments? Dem senator pitches ideas for gun control after shooting MORE (Md.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownDems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Mandel leads GOP primary for Ohio Senate seat: internal poll Red-state Dems need more from Trump before tax embrace MORE (Ohio).