WASHINGTON _ House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (Illinois)rolled out a seven-page "highlights" version of the Democraticleadership bill on Friday and promised health care reform spectators a"fire and lights show" as Democrats attempt to garner the 218 votesneeded to pass the bill.However, the summary document offered few details and finallanguage will not be available until later this week.Staff from the House Ways and Means and Education and LaborCommittees told reporters at a briefing that the Ways and Means billprovided the blueprint for the leadership bill and that significantsections remain intact. That includes a prescription drug paymentreview commission, a provision which the biotechnology industry hassaid constitutes price controls on drugs.The original Ways and Means bill also transferred a limited number ofdrugs, some of them biotech drugs, out of the Medicare Part B programand into a new Medicare outpatient drug program which would requiremanufacturers to grant the government a rebate. The industry hasobjected to subjecting those drugs to rebates. It's not clear whether thatprovision is also included in the leadership bill.Health reform issues of intense interest to the biotechnology industryhave been dwarfed by politically charged mega-issues such asemployer mandates, universal coverage and abortion coverage. Inmaking its case on Capitol Hill, the industry has had to battle againstthe fact that drug price control mechanisms are considered secondaryand tertiary issues to many members of Congress. In addition, publicopinion polls have shown that Americans support price controls ondrugs.But Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology IndustryOrganization (BIO), said the smaller issues are still "in play.""The seven-page summary does not tell us what we want to know. It'sa political document, not a legislative document," Feldbaum toldBioWorld. "It's ironic because one year ago the Clinton administrationpresented a 1,300-page, richly-detailed document and today, after ayear of debate, we have a seven-page summary document."Feldbaum said he believes the health care reform situation on CapitolHill is still as fluid as it has ever been.The House likely will wait until the Senate produces a bill before itvotes on the leadership bill. Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) said on Friday that the Senate leadership bill will be introducedon Tuesday. Mitchell has been melding two bills, neither of whichcontain drug price review commissions or new rebate requirements. n
-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor
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