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Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

INTELLIGENCE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2007--Continued -- (Senate - April 17, 2007)


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, first, I thank my distinguished colleague from West Virginia for his insight, as always, and wisdom on so many issues. He epitomizes what it means to be a Senator, and we are honored and appreciative of his leadership.


Mr. President, I do want to speak today as it relates to prescription drugs and the very important vote we will be having tomorrow, but I also first want to speak to what is happening as it relates to Blacksburg, VA, and Virginia Tech University, just to indicate that we know there was a memorial service today; that all of us, even as we carry on the normal business of the Senate, are very mindful and aware of what has occurred in the massacre at Virginia Tech University. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been affected throughout the university, most particularly the families.

Certainly, I think I can speak for the people of my great State of Michigan when I say that we are deeply, deeply sorrowful, and our prayers go out to each and every one of the people who have been affected.

Mr. President, we have a very important vote tomorrow, which is whether to proceed to legislation that would begin the process of allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to be able to negotiate the very best price for our seniors under Medicare. I want to take this opportunity to commend our majority leader for getting us to this point, Senator Reid, and the Finance Committee for getting us to this point, for bringing the issue of Medicare drug pricing to the Senate floor. I hope tomorrow we are going to see a strong bipartisan vote to proceed with the bill.

Frankly, it is very unfortunate we are having to vote on whether to proceed to this bill, but since that vote is occurring, I hope we will have a resounding yes tomorrow for something that is so clear to the American people. The direction we will hopefully take tomorrow is the direction that the voters asked us to take. Their message last November was crystal clear: that they want to make sure we are making health care decisions in the best interests of people--the best interests of seniors, of children, of families--and not the special interests that make money off the system. Tomorrow is going to be a vote on that.

Tomorrow will be the first step in the process. We are removing the provision that prohibits Medicare from using its negotiating clout. What we are going to be voting on tomorrow is whether we will proceed. And why are we doing that? Well, first of all, this Medicare bill that was put in place a few years ago actually prohibited the Secretary from negotiating to get the best price for seniors, amazingly. People to this day ask: How in the world did that happen? Well, it happened because, unfortunately, there were too many provisions in that bill that were put in on behalf of the special interests rather than our seniors.

The step we take tomorrow is good for our seniors, it is good for families, and it is good for taxpayers. It is good for taxpayers to get the best deal so that our dollars can go as far as possible under Medicare. So tomorrow is an important day.

I have been fighting for this provision ever since the Medicare prescription drug program was passed in late 2003. I wish I could have supported that bill. I did not, in part because of the prohibition that was put into place. That bill was written and designed with a huge gap in coverage--it has often been called the doughnut hole--that, frankly, wouldn't be there if we were able to get the very best pricing and stretch those Medicare dollars as far as they should go.

In fact, I joined a group of Senators to introduce legislation on December 12, 2003, to repeal the prohibition on negotiation, which is what we are talking about now, because we knew then what we know today. If the Secretary of Health and Human Services negotiates Medicare prescription drug prices, seniors will pay the lowest possible price. That should be what we are all focused on as it relates to Medicare prescription drugs. More than 3 years later, we are taking the first step toward getting this done. It is about time. I think that is what the American people are saying to us.

The best way to get the lowest possible prices on prescription drugs is to use the negotiating clout of 43 million seniors and people with disability who are under Medicare. That negotiating clout needs to be used. We are considering this bill right now because the American people want it. According to a poll conducted by the AARP, 87 percent of all Americans said they want Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices--87 percent. That is a pretty big number. Eighty-seven percent of the seniors, according to AARP, when asked, have said: Yes, of course, we want the Federal Government to negotiate to get the very best price.

Why do consumers want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices? Because they know what everybody knows: large purchasers are getting deep discounts for prescription drugs, and they want the same from Medicare.

This bill does not do the same thing as the VA, but the VA is a good example of what can be done when there is negotiation, when the Federal Government brings its clout as it does for our veterans. It gives us some idea of the kinds of discounts that can be achieved.

For example, we know that on average, the VA health system gets prescription drugs for approximately 58 percent less than their retail prices--58 percent--and on some medicines, it is up to a 1,000-percent difference. Now, I would say, if the VA can do this and get 58 percent, we can get a better deal if we negotiate, knowing again that this bill does not reflect what the VA does, but it gives you a sense of what can be done when we have that kind of clout.

Let's be clear about what we are doing right now with this bill. We are opening the door to lower drug prices so Medicare beneficiaries can afford the medicines they need and we can save taxpayers money. We all know how many times we have heard the stories--I hear them all the time--of folks trying to juggle between keeping the lights on, buying food, and getting their medicine. Our top goal should be, as a Medicare Program, to make sure people can get the medicine they need at the very best price. This bill moves us in that direction.

Let's be clear also about what we are not doing. This legislation does not create a national drug formulary, nor does it establish price controls. Seniors will have access to all of the drugs they do today, and possibly more. The prescription drug industry will continue to thrive, and R&D will not be affected. The change we will see is a change we have been asking for for the last 3 years, that seniors and families have been asking for for the last 3 years.

It is also important to note because we will hear from our friends on the other side of the aisle that somehow, if Medicare is going to have the opportunity to negotiate or if the Secretary can negotiate at appropriate times for lower prices, we are going to see the prices of the VA go up. Well, I asked the Congressional Budget Office to submit to me in writing if that were, in fact, true under this bill. They, in fact, said: No, under this bill, that is not the case. We are not going to see veterans or any other group see their prescription drug prices go up under this legislation. So that is one good thing we need to make clear and debunk as we begin this debate.

Now, what we do know is we have a very interesting thing going on. We have two kinds of debate going on right now in opposition from those who are major beneficiaries of the current system, the special interest groups that have the benefit right now of seeing huge profit increases as a result of this prescription drug bill. On the one hand, we are seeing ads that say: This legislation will do nothing. Do not pass it; it will not do anything. Then, on the other hand, the very same people are saying: But it will cause seniors to not be able to get the choice of medicines they want, it will cause veterans to see their medicine costs go up, it will cost R&D and we won't be able to do research and development into new prescription drugs anymore. I find it so interesting that the same people are arguing both sides: It will not do anything, and it will have all of these devastating effects.

At the same time, we are seeing huge amounts of money, millions and millions of dollars--for months, I have seen ads on TV and radio, newspaper ads telling us these people do not want negotiation or that it will not do anything, all paid for by the same people who benefit by the current system. I might just say that just today, a full-page, single-color ad running in the Washington Post on page A5 today, costs about $135,000--this is today, this is yesterday. We have ad after ad after ad being run and paid for by people who tell us this bill will not do anything. It will not do anything, but yet they have spent millions of dollars on TV, millions of dollars on the radio, in ads we
have seen, ads for our benefit, ads telling us people do not want negotiation.

I might add that in this ad which is running right now, where they say people really do not want Medicare to negotiate, what they say in the fine print is that, in fact, 89 percent oppose Government negotiation if it could limit access to new prescription medicine--if it could limit access to new prescription medicine. This bill does not limit access to new prescription medicine--or old prescription medicine, for that matter. That is not what we are talking about.

In fact, what I find interesting, and the subtle part of this is, if we negotiate for a better deal, they won't be able to do research anymore. We know that right now the drug industry spends 2 1/2 times more on marketing and advertising than they do on research.

I would suggest we can negotiate to get a little better price. And I wonder how much $135,000 would buy in medicine for somebody today instead of one ad? Let's cut down a little bit on the marketing and advertising, and we won't have to worry about whether Medicare can negotiate for the very best price.

So I hope that tomorrow we are going to have a vote to proceed to this very important public policy issue, this very important bill. I hope we are going to, in fact, do what 87 percent of voters are saying they want us to do--negotiate the very best price for prescription drugs.

I would ask my colleagues to vote to allow us to proceed to the bill. We can continue to work together on exactly what the language should look like, but the idea that you would stop it before we can even have the debate would be extremely disturbing. People in this country do not understand why it is that decisions are made too often for those who happen to have the lobbyists here or the ads on TV or in the newspaper and not enough for the folks who are working hard every day or are retired on a fixed income trying to make ends meet.

Tomorrow is a chance for us to show that those folks are not making the decisions, that we are going to move forward on a bill which is positive for seniors, which is going to give us an opportunity to open the door to negotiating good prices and make a real difference for people, a real difference for people whom the system is supposed to help, the Medicare prescription drug benefit for our seniors, for people on Medicare. They deserve the best price. Tomorrow, we will have a chance to vote to go to that debate and work together to get a bill that will do that. I hope we are going to vote to do that.

I yield the floor.

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