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TV dropped from Medicare drug bill

The final version of the House bill establishing a Medicare prescription-drug benefit did not include language regarding advertising prescription drugs on television. House leadership deemed it a "poison pill" and dropped it. But a dose of ad-related language still could make it into a Senate version.

Earlier versions of the House bill being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee included a study requiring the General Accounting Office (GAO) to look at whether advertising prescription drugs on television increases the cost of the drugs to consumers. The study was included as part of a compromise between House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who share jurisdiction over the prescription-drug issue.

The provision with the GAO study was removed after House Republican leadership was warned by the House parliamentarian that any controversial or extraneous provisions—what are known as "poison pills"—might keep it from passing. As a result, all portions not related directly to Medicare and Medicaid were removed.

Meanwhile, there still is a chance that a provision regarding prescription-drug advertising could find its way into the bill Senate Democrats plan to introduce.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) wants to include language that would keep pharmaceutical companies from taking a tax deduction on any advertising and marketing costs that exceed their research and development budgets.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has said that he would like to hold a floor debate on prescription drugs beginning in mid July.

Sen. John J. Rockefeller (D-W.V.) also has introduced a bill that would convene a panel to consider, among other things, how advertising prescription drugs on television affects their cost to consumers. Both the Stabenow and Rockefeller bills could become amendments attached to a larger bill co-authored by Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Zell Miller (D-Ga.).

Graham is considered an expert on health care, having made such issues a priority because of the number of older constituents he represents. Miller, as a former governor, also has a great deal of experience with health-care issues.