House Dems give mixed reviews to Obama Medicare plan

House Dems give mixed reviews to Obama Medicare plan
© Getty Images

House Democrats on Tuesday gave a mixed reception to a controversial Obama administration drug-pricing proposal. 

Republicans have called for the plan, which would change how Medicare Part B pays for certain drugs, to be scrapped completely. Congressional Democrats are split, with some expressing serious concerns and others defending the proposal.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, walked a fine line at a hearing on the proposal on Tuesday. 

He expressed broad support for the Medicare innovation center that put forward the plan but added, “We have all heard loud and clear that there are concerns.”

He put his faith in the administration changing, but not fully withdrawing, the proposal to address those issues. “I believe the administration will take into account these concerns and make changes to address them in the final rule.”

Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenTexas New Members 2019 Two Democrats become first Texas Latinas to serve in Congress Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 MORE (Texas), the top Democrat on the panel's health subcommittee, said he has “serious concerns” about aspects of the rule but also called for evaluating it with “calm and reason,” not listening to the “loudest voices.”

By contrast, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) offered strong support for the plan.

“Any time we try to do anything to rein in drug costs, we are met with fierce opposition,” Schakowsky said. “All we hear today is ‘no,’ with no alternative ideas.”

The pharmaceutical industry and some doctors groups have been advocating strongly against the proposed changes to drug pricing.

Currently, Medicare Part B pays doctors an additional 6 percent above the average price of a drug. The administration warns that this system gives doctors an incentive to prescribe higher-priced drugs so that they get paid more. The new system would be a five-year pilot program that establishes an add-on payment of 2.5 percent plus a flat fee of $16.80. 

Republicans, and some Democrats, have warned that the new system could harm patients’ access to certain if the costs to doctors became higher than what Medicare would reimburse. 

Dr. Patrick Conway, the No. 2 official in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has said that the administration is open to changing the proposal to respond to some of the complaints, by narrowing the geographic scope or seeking to ease its effect on rural providers, for example. 

Republicans also say the administration is overstepping its authority by using the CMS Innovation Center, which was established by ObamaCare, to change a payment formula established by statute. 

“There is a serious separation of powers issue that cannot be overlooked,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said.

“This model represents a dangerous precedent where future administrations could change the statutory reimbursement for any provider or service, anywhere or everywhere in the country, under the guise of a demonstration, without any input from patients, providers or Congress.”