House bill includes $50B drug-price rebates

The drug industry may have won the day on its DTC tax break, but it has lost the fight against drug price controls. In the House healthcare reform bill unveiled yesterday is a provision that reinstates price controls on drugs bought by low-income seniors, Politico reports. The rebates would cost drugmakers more than $50 billion. That's on top of the savings pharma already promised to Sen. Max Baucus, who's spearheading the reform efforts in the Senate.

Waxman refused to pull that provision out of the bill, despite requests from fellow Democrats. Given the Congressman's refusal last week to acknowledge Big Pharma's horse-trading with Baucus, the price controls aren't an enormous surprise. But they do illustrate the difficulty of this whole healthcare reform push: No one person is in charge. No single official, elected or otherwise, can make ironclad promises, because those promises can easily be undone by the next guy ... or the next chamberwide vote. Of course that's how our country's founders designed the process; they didn't want a monarch, benevolent or otherwise. So instead, things get messy.

As Politico notes, Big Pharma and its little siblings are likely to lobby hard against the provision Waxman refused to strip. Likewise, the industry will tackle the tax increases said to be bubbling around the Senate. Other healthcare companies will do the same, and patient advocacy groups will do their thing, and so on. The House bill is nothing but a work-in-progress for now. Really, the fight has only begun.

- read the Politico story
- check out the Wall Street Journal column