Parties Arm For Battle Over Medicare Prescription Drugs

By

Washington

The political battle over a Medicare prescription drug benefit heated up last week as Democrats offered a comprehensive new proposal while Republicans released a series of principles that will form the basis of their plan.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., fired the opening salvo with a proposal to provide beneficiaries with a benefit costing $25 per month.

“This proposal covers all the bases,” Graham said. “It is universal, comprehensive, affordable and accessible.”

Under the plan, Medicare beneficiaries would pay a $25 per month premium for a plan in which the Medicare program would pay at least 50% of the cost of prescription medication up to an annual stop-loss level of $4,000. Above $4,000, the program would pay all the remaining costs.

The program contains no caps on benefits and would begin with the first prescription of the year. The plan would provide extra assistance for those with incomes below 150% of the poverty line.

The program would be administered by private sector companies, including health insurers, which would be allowed to use all the methods used in the private sector to manage costs.

The estimated cost of the program is $425 billion over six years.

Graham urged members of Congress to put aside political differences and come together over an issue that is long overdue.

“Some of our colleagues may disagree with elements of our proposal,” Graham said. “Some may think it is too generous, others will think it is too meager. But we all know that our seniors cannot afford to wait out another election cycle.”

The legislation did not have a bill number at press time.

In response, House Republicans led by Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., released a set of principles upon which they promised to base their own legislation.

The plan is still being drafted, but Hastert noted the House has already passed a budget allocating $350 billion over 10 years to a new prescription drug benefit.

The Republican plan, he said, will contain provisions to lower the cost of prescription drugs and will guarantee all beneficiaries drug coverage.

The Republican plan will promote preventive medicine, strengthen the Medicare+Choice program and lower overall health care costs, Hastert said.

He did not say specifically when the Republican plan would be formally released.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, May 6, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.