With legislative clock running out, Medicare, Medicaid bills gain urgency

ALEXANDRIA, Va. With the clock ticking down to the final days on this year’s session of Congress, and lawmakers racing to adjourn for the holidays, key members of the House and Senate are racing to pass legislation that could make the Medicare Part D drug benefit program and the Medicaid prescription reimbursement system easier for pharmacy operators to swallow.

To that end, Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is reportedly negotiating directly with House leadership on what pharmacy leaders consider a must-pass Medicare bill this year. Known as S. 1954, or the Pharmacy Access Improvement Act of 2007, the bill was written in July by Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. It would require complete and accurate Part D prescription drug claims submitted electronically to be paid within 14 days, and paper claims within 30 days.

To push the bill toward a vote before the end of the year, Baucus is steering it through committee and seeking compromise to enable its quick passage. According to a report from the lobbyists of the National Community Pharmacists Association, a number of committee chairmen will play a key role in the effort to reach a consensus on both Medicare and Medicaid legislation acceptable to both houses of Congress.

That list includes Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chair of the House Ways & Means Committee; Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., chair of the House Ways & Means Health Subcommittee; Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee; and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chair of the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee.

“If the first role of government is to do no harm, and the U.S. Congress will be shirking its duties if it leaves for the holidays without acting on pressing legislative matters regarding the … viability of community pharmacy,” said NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer Bruce Roberts today. “Congress must correct flaws in Medicare and Medicaid that hinder community pharmacies’ ability to provide patients with prescription drug services and undermine … our free market system.”

Roberts urged lawmakers to “fix this two-headed problem” and “stop the hemorrhaging of community pharmacies” by focusing on several bills introduced earlier this year. “We urge the Senate and House leadership to include the common-sense provisions contained in the specific legislative fixes pending in Congress,” he said. “For Medicare the bills are S. 1954 and H.R. 1474, and for Medicaid the bills are S. 1951 and H.R. 3140/3700.”