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House Chairmen Thumb Noses at White House Health Care Deal

The three House chairmen writing the chamber’s health care bill are warning the White House, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and industry groups that they are not on board with deals struck behind their back.Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he “didn’t care— what agreements had been negotiated and made it clear he’s been left in the dark.“All I know about the White House and deals are what I read in the paper,— he said. “I can’t legislate that.—Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) also vowed that the health care deals didn’t bind the House, “because we were not involved,— and said the House would go its own way.Waxman has planned to fill in the “doughnut hole— in the Medicare drug plan by forcing companies to accept lower payments for prescription drugs for poor elderly patients that are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, as they did before the Medicare drug law took effect. The doughnut hole is the gap in coverage under the prescription drug benefit.“What strikes me as most important is that we not have the pharmaceutical industry keep a windfall,— Waxman said. “The government paid billions more for the same drugs for the same people. That money ought to go to close the doughnut hole which all seniors face.—Waxman said that he is planning to talk more to the White House to get more information about the specifics of the deal, which includes a 50 percent cut in drug prices for seniors in the doughnut hole, and said it was too late to bother complaining about being left out of the talks.“It doesn’t make any difference now what shoulda or woulda or coulda happened,— he said. “What happened, happened and we need to just move on.—Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) said it was “unfortunate— the House wasn’t included in the negotiations with the drug companies, which yielded $80 billion in savings over a decade but included protections for the drug industry in return. Miller praised the Obama administration for trying to get industry groups on board, but said the House will take a hard look at whether they make sense.“The president getting these big interests involved in a positive manner is good, but we have an obligation to say At what price?’— Miller said.An administration aide defended the deal, noting it would slice the doughnut hole and help pay for broader health care reform, while removing potentially large obstacles to the overall bill.“What is important here is we’ve gotten commitments from the two sectors of the health industry to make a substantial commitment to health reform,— said an administration source. “Given the resistance that we’ve seen in the past from the private industry toward health reform that is a good thing.—The Democratic chairmen, meanwhile, are also facing a backlash from a growing number of moderates, who are pushing for the adoption of the White House deal instead of the stiffer House language. A group led by Reps. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) on Thursday had gathered at least 70 signatures for a letter to Waxman and Rangel urging them to substitute the White House provision into the draft health bill. In it, lawmakers mostly from the Blue Dog and New Democrat coalitions called the proposal “a dramatic step forward— in helping fill the “doughnut hole.—“PhRMA has agreed to help, and it only makes sense that we should work with them,— Halvorson said.Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

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