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AARP Ramps Up Pressure for Drug Price Negotiating Authority

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

April 3, 2007 – The senior lobby AARP is turning up the heat on senators to give the Health and Human Services secretary authority to negotiate drug prices in Medicare, urging a massive call-in by its members.

AARP appealed to its 38 million members on Wednesday to call their senators to support legislation granting that authority, which Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., intends to bring up "as soon as possible after senators return" from recess, spokeswoman Carol Guthrie said.

Baucus hasn't said whether he would go farther and actually require the secretary to use that authority, however.

AARP said in an April 3 press release that its members already have made more than 60,000 calls and sent more than 42,000 e-mail messages in support of giving negotiating authority to the HHS secretary. Under the Medicare overhaul law (PL 108-173)), only private prescription drug plans, HMOs, and other private health plans in Medicare can exercise authority to negotiate pharmaceutical reimbursement levels in Part D of Medicare, the outpatient prescription drug benefit.

AARP supports a House-passed bill (HR 4) that gives the secretary negotiating authority and requires that it be exercised. HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt has said he would not willingly exercise such authority if it were granted to him.

AARP is specifically targeting the following senators: Trent Lott, R-Miss.; Norm Coleman, R-Minn.; Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; John Sununu, D-N.H.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

It's unclear whether Baucus has the votes to mark up legislation granting negotiating authority. Observers say his delay in trying to move the measure reflects the difficulty he has had drumming up sufficient support. But he might be able to build some momentum for the measure with the help of AARP and other allies.

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