With sound, furry, and a fair quota of sound bites and photo opps, House Democrats are pushing for quick adoption of H.R. 4, the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007. The bill would require the Secretary of HHS to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers on drug prices in Medicare Part D.

As I explained in an earlier post, federal drug price negotiations would not generate savings above what are already achieved via the marketplace – unless Congress wants to severely limit the number of new and existing drugs available to seniors. However, the conclusion is counter intuitive to the uninitiated, especially given media hype and partisan palaver.

Today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) told Rep. John Dingell, new Ways and Means Committee chairman, that federal drug price negotiations under H.R. 4 would save nothing. Here are the salient points of CBO’s official estimate:

CBO estimates that H.R. 4 would have a negligible effect on federal spending because we anticipate that the Secretary would be unable to negotiate prices across the broad range of covered Part D drugs that are more favorable than those obtained by PDPs under current law. Since the legislation specifically directs the Secretary to negotiate only about the prices that could be charged to PDPs, and explicitly indicates that the Secretary would not have authority to negotiate about some other factors that may influence the prescription drug market, we assume that the negotiations would be limited solely to a discussion about the prices to be charged to PDPs. In that context, the Secretary’s ability to influence the outcome of those negotiations would be limited. For example, without the authority to establish a formulary, we believe that the Secretary would not be able to encourage the use of particular drugs by Part D beneficiaries, and as a result would lack the leverage to obtain significant discounts in his negotiations with drug manufacturers.

Instead, prices for covered Part D drugs would continue to be determined through negotiations between drug manufacturers and PDPs. Under current law, PDPs are allowed to establish formularies – subject to certain limits – and thus have some ability to direct demand to drugs produced by one manufacturer rather than another. The PDPs also bear substantial financial risk and therefore have strong incentives to negotiate price discounts in order to control their costs and offer coverage that attracts enrollees through features such as low premiums and cost-sharing requirements. Therefore, the PDPs have both the incentives and the tools to negotiate drug prices that the government, under the legislation, would not have. H.R. 4 would not alter that essential dynamic.

To read CBO’s letter to Chairman Dingell, click here (PDF). To learn more about the issue, please check out my earlier story.