Senate blocks Medicare bill

A bill that would have allowed the US government to negotiate on Medicare drug prices was blocked today in the Senate. Under the Medicare drug benefit, which provides prescription drug coverage for seniors and the disabled, the government is prohibited from negotiating prices with drug companies. Some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have called for lifting that ban, arguing that the government could use its buying power to negotiate lower costs than can individual insurers, which are permitted to negotiate under the current scheme. But Democrats couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to bring the bill up for a vote, according to the Associated Press. Republicans argued that the program is within budget because the private sector, not the secretary of Health and Human Services, has the power to hold negotiations. They successfully blocked a motion to move ahead to the bill, with the voting 55-42—five short of the votes needed to proceed. Democratic lawmakers argued that their goal wasn’t to take over the role of private health plans, but rather to allow the health secretary to intervene for certain expensive drugs that have no substitute, such as some of the drugs taken by cancer patients, notes the AP.