Vitter pushes 'Show Your Exemption' proposal

U.S. Sen. David Vitter continued Wednesday to stall the passage of a pharmacy regulation bill until he gets a vote on his “Show Your Exemption” proposal.

His amendment would require disclosing which congressional staffers are being excluded from the Affordable Care Act health care exchanges.

Vitter, R-La., remained the only member of Congress holding out support of the compound pharmacy bill. The legislation is designed to tighten government oversight of pharmacies that custom-mix prescription drugs. The bill came in the wake of last year’s deadly meningitis outbreak tied to contaminated pain injections.

The Senate Democratic leadership has offered Vitter a single vote on his proposal, but Vitter has declined the offer because he wants an opportunity to bring it back up if his amendment is erased in a congressional conference committee.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, objected to Vitter’s efforts and complained that his proposal has nothing to do with the legislation at hand.

“This is outrageous,” Harkin said. “He (Vitter) wanted the right to bring it up again and again and again.”

Vitter responded that the offer for a single vote on his amendment would be a “fool’s agreement.”

“I need to protect my rights to revisit the issue,” Vitter said.

Rank-and-file congressional staffers, by law, are required to obtain their insurance through the exchanges, although they can keep their federal employer contribution toward their insurance costs. But congressional committee and leadership staffers do not count as “official” staff and can continue to get their insurance through the federal government plans, although it is up to each member of Congress to decide individually.

Members also are being allowed to deem some office staffers as not “official” and thus allowing them to stay off of the exchanges.

Vitter’s proposal would require every member of Congress to disclose how they are categorizing their staffers.

Vitter has designated all of his staff, including his staff on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as “official.”

The Louisiana senator has contended that members of Congress and their staffers should not have their employer health care contributions follow them onto the health care exchanges under the argument that doing so is an illegal tweak of the law.

Vitter on Wednesday also sent out a petition and fundraising email asking for help to force members of Congress to “Live By Your Laws.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., bemoaned the “stall tactics” of some Republicans on a pharmacy bill that is “not a contentious issue.”

The bill passed the House with unanimous approval and a procedural vote on the bill Tuesday in the U.S. Senate was approved on a 97 to 1 vote, with just Vitter opposing it.

The compounding pharmacy bill is intended to prevent a repeat of last year’s fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people and sickened more than 750 others across the U.S. The sickness was traced to a now-closed pharmacy in Massachusetts, the New England Compounding Center, where inspectors found mold, standing water and other unsterile conditions.

Compounded medicines have been tied to contamination problems for years. But jurisdiction over them has been murky. Pharmacies are typically regulated through state boards, but the federal Food and Drug Administration regulates manufacturers of medicines.