Merkley seeks Medicare change

— U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., made his own mark on the health care debate this week, gathering 21 signatures on a letter asking for a major reform of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, as part of any health care overhaul bill.

Merkley, joined by a bevy of mostly liberal Democrats, asked the Senate Finance Committee to change the 2003 law that prevents Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers over the price of prescription medications. The ban was put in place when the Medicare drug benefit, also called Medicare Part D, was created. But Merkley wants to go further, creating a government-run prescription drug plan within Medicare, to provide competition with private plans.

At a time when politicians are scraping together ways to expand health coverage, it only makes sense to get rid of a law that costs billions, Merkley wrote, in his letter to Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

“(T)he fact that Americans pay more than twice as much as other industrialized countries for worse health outcomes indicate that there are tremendous inefficiencies embedded in the system,” Merkley wrote. “If we are to succeed in health reform, we cannot allow those inefficiencies to remain.”

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