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Gutknecht seeks changes in prescription drug bill

By Janelle Carter

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- A group of House Republicans, including Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Minnesota's 1st District, pressed on Tuesday for a prescription drug bill provisions that would allow the importation of U.S.-made pharmaceuticals sold more cheaply abroad and would help push low-cost generic drugs onto the market.

They are the latest Republicans to express concern about the current form of the GOP-written prescription drug bill, which leaders have vowed to debate before leaving this week for the holiday recess. The bill is expected to come to the House floor this afternoon.

"What we're here today to say is there is still time to do it right," said Gutknecht. "There's no hurry. There are a number of issues ignored."

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Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said, "We are continuing to talk to leadership. They're very concerned about adding one more layer." But Kingston added, "We believe this amendment needs to be there."

The group, which includes Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo. and calls itself the Republican Caucus for Affordable Pharmaceuticals, said it would be meaningless to pass a prescription drug bill without addressing the rising costs of drugs.

The issue of importation of U.S.-made drugs sent abroad is not new. Lawmakers have complained repeatedly, including during the last elections, that prescriptions can cost three to four times less in Europe and Canada due to price controls abroad.

The proposal would let distributors buy U.S.-made and approved drugs in certain countries where they are sold more cheaply and then resell them here.

The generic drug provision would tighten rules for patent protections for brand-name drugs to encourage access to low-cost generics.

"If you don't deal with the issue of price, we're going to create an entitlement neither we nor our grandchildren can afford," Gutknecht said.

The bill would spend $350 billion during 10 years and rely primarily on private insurers to administer the benefits. It would require seniors to pay premiums of about $35 a month along with a $250 yearly deductible.

The government would pay 80 percent of the first $1,000 of drug costs and 50 percent of the next $1,000. Patients would be responsible for drug costs beyond that, although with a cap on out-of-pocket spending. The House Energy and Commerce Committee version has a $3,700 cap on out-of-pocket spending, the House Ways and Means Committee's cap is $100 more.

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House Democrats have offered a plan that would spend more than double the GOP proposal.

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