The three House chairmen writing the chambers health care bill are warning the White House, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and industry groups that they are not on board with deals struck behind their back.Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he didnt care what agreements had been negotiated and made it clear hes been left in the dark.All I know about the White House and deals are what I read in the paper, he said. I cant legislate that.Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) also vowed that the health care deals didnt bind the House, because we were not involved, and said the House would go its own way.Waxman has planned to fill in the doughnut hole in the Medicare drug plan by forcing companies to accept lower payments for prescription drugs for poor elderly patients that are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, as they did before the Medicare drug law took effect. The doughnut hole is the gap in coverage under the prescription drug benefit.What strikes me as most important is that we not have the pharmaceutical industry keep a windfall, Waxman said. The government paid billions more for the same drugs for the same people. That money ought to go to close the doughnut hole which all seniors face.Waxman said that he is planning to talk more to the White House to get more information about the specifics of the deal, which includes a 50 percent cut in drug prices for seniors in the doughnut hole, and said it was too late to bother complaining about being left out of the talks.It doesnt make any difference now what shoulda or woulda or coulda happened, he said. What happened, happened and we need to just move on.Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) said it was unfortunate the House wasnt included in the negotiations with the drug companies, which yielded $80 billion in savings over a decade but included protections for the drug industry in return. Miller praised the Obama administration for trying to get industry groups on board, but said the House will take a hard look at whether they make sense.The president getting these big interests involved in a positive manner is good, but we have an obligation to say At what price? Miller said.An administration aide defended the deal, noting it would slice the doughnut hole and help pay for broader health care reform, while removing potentially large obstacles to the overall bill.What is important here is weve gotten commitments from the two sectors of the health industry to make a substantial commitment to health reform, said an administration source. Given the resistance that weve seen in the past from the private industry toward health reform that is a good thing.The Democratic chairmen, meanwhile, are also facing a backlash from a growing number of moderates, who are pushing for the adoption of the White House deal instead of the stiffer House language.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.