The GOP is demonstrating their seriousness about the federal debt by holding the debt ceiling hostage, screaming “We’ve got to reform Medicare TODAY!” as a means for cutting government spending. But that’s talk — loud talk, to be sure, but talk nonetheless. How serious is the GOP really when it comes to trading cuts in Medicare spending for an increase in the debt ceiling?

One way to find out is simple: push for Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices in the same way that the VA already does.

What would that save? According to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare [pdf, with emphasis added]:

Allowing the Secretary [of HHS] to negotiate drug prices has the potential to save billions of dollars ­ potentially up to $24 billion annually ­ assuming that the mean reduction in drug prices obtained through the limited use of VA’s negotiation techniques could be applied to the Part D program’s overall prescription drug cost of $49 billion. These savings are more than adequate to close the “doughnut hole” coverage gap, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost $42 billion over five years. Savings in excess of $42 billion could be used to improve other Medicare benefits and reducing the deficit.

Up to $24B a year is a nice start if you’re looking to save money in the Medicare program.

It’s a fast legislative fix, because most of the language they would need to craft has already been written. Find the VA authorization language, translate it from Veterans Affairs to HHS, and you’re there. There’s no need for long negotiations or drafting and redrafting the language, because it was already done when the VA got the authority to negotiate its drug prices.

It’s quick financial fix as well, since Medicare spending on drugs would drop as soon as the negotiations take effect. How about a simple “Medicare will not pay more than the best price negotiated by any other entity of the federal government” plan?

If the GOP is serious about requiring Medicare spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, here’s a place to start. PhRMA might not like it, but we’ve all got to share in the sacrifices, right?

(“Money Pills 2″ photo h/t to Lisa Yarost, aka klynslis)