NU Online News Service, Nov. 20, 2003, 4:05 p.m. EST –Washington
Supporters and opponents of an industry-backed Medicare prescription drug program mustered their forces ahead of a possible vote on Friday, Nov. 21.
At issue is a massive expansion and reform of the Medicare program, not to mention enormous political stakes for Republicans and Democrats heading into the 2004 elections.
If enacted, the legislation would provide Medicare beneficiaries with a major new benefit, establish a test program in which Medicare would face competition from private health plans and allow creation of health savings accounts (HSAs).
The legislation is drawing intense reactions among industry and health care activist groups.
Karen Ignagni, president of AAHP-HIAA (the recently merged American Association of Health Plans and Health Insurance Association of America) says the legislation will provide seniors with more health care choices as well as prescription drug coverage.
“With the bipartisan passage of this legislation, Congress will finally give seniors the same range of choices that are available to working Americans,” Ignagni says.
“Seniors and other disabled beneficiaries will receive much-needed prescription drugs and the choices they deserve to choose a benefit structure that is right for them,” she says.
Mohit Ghose, an AAHP-HIAA press representative, adds that association members are looking forward to providing this benefit to Medicare beneficiaries, whether as part of an integrated program or as a stand-alone coverage.
But, he adds, the details still matter, and it will be important to see the regulations that will be promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services, assuming the legislation passes.
There are issues involving how the regions are structured as well as whether health plans will have the tools needed to manage drug costs, Ghose says.
But he emphasizes that AAHP-HIAA members are eager to serve Medicare beneficiaries and are confident they can help beneficiaries save money.
William K. McGreevy, president of the Association of Health Insurance Advisors, Falls Church, Va., praises the HSA language.
HSAs, he says, would make affordable health options available to small employers and their employees.
The legislation also is drawing strong support from business groups. Businesses that currently provide retiree prescription drug benefits will receive a $70 billion subsidy to continue doing so.
“This agreement is fantastic news,” says Neil Trautwein, vice president of health policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington.
“We are finally ready to move forward with the Medicare reforms that we and so many others have sought for so long,” he says.
And in a major political boost for the legislation, the American Association of Retired Persons, Washington, has endorsed it.
AARP says in a prepared statement that while the legislation is far from perfect, “it represents an historic breakthrough an important milestone in the nation’s commitment to strengthen and expand health security for its citizens at a time when it is sorely needed.”
But the legislation is drawing sharp criticism from some health care activist groups.