This is our political system on drugs…

Here in Sacramento, SB840(Kuehl) passed out of Senate Health Committee this evening, along a party line vote with six “aye” votes. (State Senator Negrete-McLeod was not present during the vote.)

But the issue of “single-payer” health coverage was invoked in Washington, DC, as well.

In a blow to seniors, the federal budget, and common sense, several U.S. Senators blocked a attempt to pass a bill to allow the federal government to use its purchasing power under Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs. While most Democrats (including California’s Boxer and Feinstein) and even six Republicans voted for the measure, totalling 55 votes, it was not enough to get the supermajority 60 votes needed to actually get it passed.

I was curious about the argument quoted in the New York Times write-up:

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, denounced the bill as “a step down the road to a single-payer government-run health care system.”

Democrats said they were merely trying to untie the hands of the secretary of health and human services so he could negotiate on behalf of 43 million Medicare beneficiaries.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is able to negotiate for lower-priced drugs,” said the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. “H.M.O.’s can negotiate. Wal-Mart can negotiate. Why in the world shouldn’t Medicare be able to do that?”

A 2003 law prohibits Medicare from negotiating or setting drug prices or establishing a uniform list of covered drugs, or formulary.

More than a handful of Republican Senators don’t think they are endorsing single-payer health care when simply supporting the common-sense notion of the Medicare program using its purchasing power. The notion of a “bulk discount” is market-oriented, after all.

But it seem Senator Cornyn’s argument only makes sense if he thinks the bill will actually be effective–that it will actually provide medicines at lower prices for seniors and Medicare. If it worked, it would spur other reforms… but that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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