Medicare reform faces an uncertain future in Washington. Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind says it just makes sense to allow the federal Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
The House passed the measure late last week. Kind says while there's no certainty about how much money might be saved, the new Medicare drug benefit was the largest expansion of entitlement spending in forty years, with no ability to pay for any of it. "It's all deficit financing, and these costs are going up," says the La Crosse Democrat. "And when more people enroll in the new prescription drug plan, it's going to be even more costly, and there are no cost containment measures in it. So what we're saying is, why not give the secretary the authority to at least try?"
But Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who'd be required to pursue negotiations with drug companies, opposes the change and does not believe it would save money. The White House has said President Bush will veto the bill if it reaches his desk. There's no companion bill in the Senate, and it's unclear when — or if — Senators will take up the House version.