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Rx groups welcome approval of Senate Finance health bill

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Retail pharmacy groups applauded the Senate Finance Committee's passage of its health reform bill this week and underscored key industry provisions as the legislation is blended with other proposals.

In a 14-9 vote, the finance committee approved the America's Healthy Future Act proposed by committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.). Next, the Senate must merge that bill with with a proposal by its health committee.

WASHINGTON — Retail pharmacy groups applauded the Senate Finance Committee’s passage of its health care reform bill this week and underscored key industry provisions as the legislation is blended with other proposals.

In a 14-9 vote, the finance committee on Tuesday approved the America’s Healthy Future Act proposed by committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.). Only one Republican in the committee voted for the measure — Sen. Olympia Snowe (R., Maine) — whereas health care reform bills passing other Senate and House committees had failed to garner any Republican votes.

The 10-year, $829 billion Baucus plan promises to give all Americans access to quality, low-cost health care coverage while reining in the nation’s soaring medical costs. Key elements include expanded eligibility for Medicaid, a health program for the poor, tax subsidies to help individuals and families comply with a mandate that virtually everyone carry health insurance, and an option for Americans to keep their current health insurance.

Not included in the Senate Finance bill is an option for a government-run health plan. The measure instead calls for the creation of nonprofit health cooperatives that would compete with private health insurers.

"The bill we passed today puts patients and doctors — not insurance companies — in the driver’s seat," Baucus commented upon his plan’s approval by the committee.

"It modernizes our health care system to reduce waste and inefficiency and slows health care costs that stretch families, businesses and our economy to a breaking point," he explained. "This balanced, common-sense bill begins to shave federal deficits. The American people deserve a health care system that works for them, and this vote is a critical step toward that goal."

Now Democratic leaders in the Senate must merge the Finance Committee bill with a proposal by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Meanwhile, the House is working feverishly to nail down legislative details for its final health reform bill, which according to published reports isn’t likely to come to the floor until later this month. And after the Senate and the House approve their bills, they must produce a final bill to put before both houses of Congress.

As the legislative wheels continue to turn, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores sent a letter to Senate leaders — Baucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and HELP Committee chairman Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) — urging lawmakers to ensure that pro-patient and pro-pharmacy provisions remain in the final legislation.

NACDS reiterated its support for a reformed Medicaid reimbursement rate for generic medications that is more accurate and applauded the Senate for incorporating patient- and pharmacy-friendly provisions in the reform bills, including a modification of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations on pharmacies that sell durable medical equipment (DME), and support for enhanced access to pharmacist-provided medication therapy management (MTM) services in a number of delivery system reform provisions.

"We appreciate the inclusion of these provisions and believe that they are critical components of any health care reform legislation," the letter said.

In a statement following the passage of the Senate Finance bill, the National Community Pharmacists Association also called for legislators to keep community pharmacy-friendly provisions in mind.

"Now our attention turns to the melding of the separate Senate Finance and HELP committee bills into one bill that will be considered by the full Senate," NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer Bruce Roberts commented. "While some portions of the bill do raise concerns for community pharmacies, we urge the Senate leadership to keep these and other pharmacy-friendly provisions in that bill because they are also patient-friendly, and that’s what everyone should be striving for if America’s health care system is truly going to be reformed for the better."

The Retail Industry Leaders Association pointed to the Senate Finance bill’s focus on prevention as an important step in health care reform.

"Specifically, RILA applauds the committee’s inclusion of prevention and wellness incentives in the bill," stated John Emling, senior vice president for government affairs at RILA. "These incentives are critical to shifting America’s health care delivery system from the simple treatment of illness toward the prevention of disease."


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