WASHINGTON _ Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of theHouse Committee on Energy and Commerce, said he will oppose theAdvisory Council on Breakthrough Drugs which is included inPresident Clinton's health care reform plan. Energy and Commerce isone of three House and two Senate committees that have primaryauthority over health care reform legislation. The other two in theHouse are Ways and Means and Education and Labor and, in theSenate, Finance and Labor.Clinton's plan, one of several floating around the nation's capitol thesedays, is unlikely to be the starting point for a compromise health careplan since a majority of legislators here oppose it. However, the idea ofa council to review the prices of new drugs found its way into analternative plan, drafted by Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) andapproved by a slim majority in the health subcommittee of Ways andMeans. Dingell said he will oppose the idea in any comprehensivehealth care reform bill."I do not desire to single out new or `breakthrough' drugs fordraconian price regulation," Dingell wrote in a letter on Wednesday toRep. Lynn Schenk (D-Calif.). Schenk has been a vocal critic of theadvisory council and an advocate of the biotechnology industry.It's not clear what impact Dingell's stance will have on the unfoldinghealth care debate. Dingell is currently trying to negotiate acompromise with other Democrats in his committee to win theirsupport (and thus a majority) for a bill that could advance to the fullHouse for consideration.The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) called Dingell'ssupport a "critical victory." Two other ideas that BIO has opposed wereincluded in the Clinton and Stark plans: expanded powers for theSecretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to exclude drugs fromMedicare coverage if she rules that the price is excessive and authorityfor her to negotiate a special rebate for new drugs. Dingell did notmention his position on these two provisions in his letter to Schenk. _Lisa Piercey

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