While the Senate wonders just what it is that Joe Lieberman wants in a health care bill, the standoff over pharmaceutical provisions continues. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) is pressing forward with his demand for a vote on his amendment to allow cheaper drugs to be re-imported from Canada; meanwhile, other Democratic senators hope they can use the battle to squeeze Big Pharma for a greater contribution to reform.
"I think that it's good that the Dorgan Amendment has reengaged PhRMA, and I hope that what it leads to is improvements in Part D that are sound and lasting," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) at a press briefing on Friday. Whitehouse was referring to the Medicare prescription drug program that is beset with a "doughnut hole" -- a time period during which seniors' drugs aren't covered.
Asked after the briefing if reimportation was being used as leverage over the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Whitehouse told Huffington Post:
"I wouldn't call it a bargaining chip. I think that for a lot of the people and most particularly for Senator Dorgan, this is something he believes in passionately. But I think the fact that it's out there now I think has everybody want to come to an end on this, and if the end is a solution to Part D I could not be happier," he said.
On Monday, Inside Health Policy reported, citing "Washington lobbyists," that the standoff had indeed inspired PhRMA to come back to the negotiating table.
PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson told HuffPost that if those negotiations are ongoing, he's not aware of them.
"To the best of my knowledge, there are no such negotiations taking place. Obviously, as the Senate moves closer to a final vote on health care reform, there are a lot of proposals flying around right now. We have been a committed partner in this process from the beginning, and so we are keeping an open mind. But at the end of the day, for health care reform to be successful, it must recognize the importance of medical progress to America," said Johnson.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat, said that any number of concessions from PhRMA could break the logjam. After the briefing, Schumer was asked if he genuinely believed PhRMA would withdraw its support for the bill if Dorgan's amendment passed.
"I don't know," said Schumer. "That's not -- the issue is, what is the best possible outcome with all the different things we need to do? Some of them were mentioned: filling the doughnut hole; some mentioned getting prices lower; some mentioned safety. You have to just sort of put it all together... I think it'll be resolved in the next little while. I certainly don't think it'll stand in the way of getting a bill."