May 04 2007

Seniors and prescription drugs

Anniston Star

by Senator Richard Shelby

The Anniston Star printed an editorial on May 1 that took issue with my recent vote against a plan to allow the federal government's involvement in prescription drug negotiations for our nation's seniors. The editorial raised points I would like to address. Like many pieces of legislation that come to the Senate floor, this bill sounds great on the surface. Few can argue with the idea behind allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices for our seniors. However, upon further review, this bill would have added countless layers to our already bloated federal bureaucracy and may have denied access to critical prescription drugs our seniors depend upon.

The writer did not ask for an explanation of my vote prior to publishing the editorial. Had I been asked, I would have explained that the savings cited in the editorial were not supported by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the nonpartisan government organization that analyzes legislation and informs Congress of its potential costs and benefits. In fact, in a letter made available prior to the vote the CBO stated "… giving the Secretary (of Health and Human Services) broad authority to negotiate drug prices would not provide the leverage necessary to generate lower prices than those obtained by prescription drug plans and thus would have a negligible effect on Medicare drug spending."

Further, I would have relayed my very real concerns that this plan would have led to the government excluding important, yet expensive, medications. The editorial writer apparently was unaware that groups including the American Legion, the Arthritis Foundation, the Epilepsy Foundation, the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association and the Kidney Cancer Association had voiced concerns about the legislation. While supporters tried to deny that expensive medications could have been eliminated as a result of the bill, they were silent regarding a committee amendment ensuring that the government could not exclude certain prescription drugs. This provision was subsequently rejected by the Democratic majority. If our government gained control of our prescription drugs, we would see a shortage of life-saving medicines. A large federal bureaucracy should not decide who gets the medicine they need to live.

In Washington, the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," seldom applies. Between the president, Congress and myriad organizations lobbying on behalf of their constituencies, someone always is trying to fix something with unnecessary legislation. This legislation is simply not needed.

The current system is working. Approximately 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries had drug coverage; in 2006, the average premium paid fell from the original CBO estimate of $37 per month to $23 per month. The result is a satisfaction rate of more than 80 percent on the part of Medicare participants who receive an average of $1,200 a year in savings on their prescription medications. I believe the federal government has an obligation to Medicare recipients. I will continue to work on behalf of our seniors to ensure they have affordable access to health care and a prescription-drug benefit. To suggest otherwise is unfair and untrue.