Medicare advocates ready for anticipated legislation

WASHINGTON: The new Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to push for legislation requiring the government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries. As such, advocacy and policy groups hoping to encourage the change are boosting communications efforts to ensure their voices are heard among the new-Congress clatter.

WASHINGTON: The new Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to push for legislation requiring the government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries. As such, advocacy and policy groups hoping to encourage the change are boosting communications efforts to ensure their voices are heard among the new-Congress clatter.

The Medicare Rights Center (MRC) is set to announce a joint initiative with several other unnamed advocacy groups. The initiative, noted MRC president Robert Hayes, will unite the public affairs efforts of the groups that are encouraging legislation that would force Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

"This will effectively take a truth squad approach," Hayes said. "We'll do both proactive and reactive outreach to not just the press, but other allied organizations. We're anticipating a barrage of misleading propaganda from the pharma industry."

Hayes said he expects to announce the details of the initiative, including which groups are involved, within the next week.

The Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) has also been preparing for the media storm that the debate will likely bring. Judith Stein, CMA's executive director, said the organization has been reaching out to members of Congress, as well as sending e-mail alerts to the press. Stein said she is hoping to have an Op-Ed on the topic published soon.

The nonprofit is working with Douglas Gould & Co. on its communications efforts, which have included the creation of a Web site, fairmedicare.org, and regular podcasts from that site.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade organization representing the major pharma companies, did not return calls seeking a comment on its communications plans.

In a statement following the election, however, the organization indicated that it would fight any proposal to change the current program. The government is currently specifically prohibited from negotiating drug prices.

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